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Colbert’s super PAC permitted by FEC

When it comes to the super PAC game, the Federal Election Commission sent clear signals Thursday morning: Stephen Colbert can play, but elected officials should refrain.

Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report,” told supporters via his show, Twitter and Facebook in May that he and attorney Trevor Potter, a former FEC chairman, were asking the FEC to provide an advisory opinion regarding the creation of a Colbert Super PAC.

“The American Dream is simple — that anyone, no matter who they are, if they are determined, if they are willing to work hard enough, someday will grow up to create a legal entity that will then receive unlimited corporate funds which can be used to influence our elections,” Colbert said previously.

The FEC agrees, at least in part. In a 5-1 decision, the Commission gave Colbert the green light to start the “Colbert Super PAC,” but also said his employer, Viacom Corp., would need to report help it provides for political activities outside of Colbert’s show. The end result is that Colbert can fulfill his “dream,” but only in a relatively narrow media exemption window limited to his own show.

Watchdog organizations, who had been watching and commenting on the anticipated FEC decision, and especially how the influence of Viacom could have been expanded, will only be half-pleased with the result.

“The ‘press exemption’ in the campaign finance laws simply does not apply to allow a corporation like Viacom to secretly finance independent ads for Mr. Colbert’s Super PAC, nor does it allow Viacom to secretly pay for the administrative costs of the Colbert Super PAC,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer. “For the FEC to rule otherwise on the Colbert advisory opinion request, would result in the Commission opening up a gaping loophole in the disclosure laws.”

Wertheimer is praising a 6-0 decision by the FEC, also handed down Thursday morning, that federal elected officials and candidates, and national party officials are prohibited by law from soliciting unlimited contributions on behalf of super PACs, which spend money to influence federal elections.

The decision stemmed from an advisory opinion request from two left-leaning PACs, Majority PAC and House Majority PAC, who wanted to know if it would be legal for lawmakers and federal office holders to solicit money on behalf of a Super PAC raising unlimited sums.

If the FEC had ruled otherwise, federal officials could have solicited millions in contributions from wealthy individuals or corporations on behalf of the super PAC, which could have then turned around and spent the money on behalf of the soliciting candidate during an election.

“The solicitation of such unlimited contributions by federal officeholders and candidates is bound to cause corruption,” said Wertheimer.

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