June 30, 2011 / 6:50 PM / 8 years ago

Comedian Colbert lampoons campaign finance laws

WASHINGTON (Reuters Life!) - Political satirist Stephen Colbert won approval from the U.S. election regulatory agency on Thursday to form a political action committee that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on the 2012 elections.

Stephen Colbert greets a crowd outside the Federal Election Commission (FEC) after his meeting with members of FEC to discuss his proposal to establish an Independent expenditure-only political committee and Draft Advisory Opinion 2011-12 in Washington June 30, 2011. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Colbert, who presents himself as a conservative pundit on his late-night cable TV show and has mocked the infusion of corporate money into U.S. political campaigns, emerged to cheers from supporters outside the agency’s headquarters.

Asked what message he was sending to big corporations, the comedian said: “None. I want their money.”

Treating Colbert’s request as a serious campaign finance issue, the U.S. Federal Election Commission voted 5-1 to allow the creation of his “Super Political Action Committee.”

A political action committee, or PAC, is a group created to raise and spend money to elect or defeat political candidates or causes. PACs are regulated by the FEC.

SuperPACs are amped-up PACs created after a federal court ruling in 2010 allowed unlimited corporate and union contributions to certain political committees.

His show, “The Colbert Report,” airs on the Comedy Central cable channel, owned by Viacom Inc. The FEC required Colbert to reveal certain spending by Viacom producing advertisements and other costs for his PAC.

Colbert’s creation of his PAC is aimed at mocking a 2010 Supreme Court decision that made it easier for corporations to pour money into political campaigns.

But his stunt could have had unintended consequences that would have made it easier for candidates who work for big media companies to use their employer to further their political careers.


Colbert had sought a ruling from the FEC that would let Viacom spend unlimited amounts of money without disclosure to bankroll some of the PACs activities. The commission denied this request.

“The troubling nature of the Colbert request is that although it is meant as a spirited farce, it would have had serious real world legal effects,” if adopted, said Tara Malloy, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that backs stronger campaign finance laws.

Colbert appeared before the FEC commissioners during a staid meeting and afterward spoke to a boisterous crowd chanting his name outside the building.

“I am here to represent your voice so please quiet down so you can hear what I have to say,” he said.

“Some people have cynically asked, ‘Is this some kind of joke,’” Colbert told the crowd. “I don’t think that participating in democracy is a joke.”

Slideshow (4 Images)

Separately, the FEC approved a bid by two new Democratic political action committees asking if candidates can seek funds on behalf of independent political groups.

The panel cleared that request but said such solicitations are subject to campaign finance giving limits.

That request was spurred by Republican lawyer James Bopp’s contention that such solicitation is legal and that he is encouraging Republican officials to seek donations for the newly formed Republican SuperPAC.

Reporting by Kim Dixon; Editing by Will Dunham

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