No Joke: Colbert's Campaign May Run Afoul of Law

"It's illegal for my crunch money here to pay for the campaign, but it is legal for it to pay for my show, and the show can report on my campaign," he said. "Host: 'Eat them.' Candidate: 'I just happen to like 'em.' "

But even if Doritos has found a way around the ban on corporate donations, that doesn't address the issue of Comedy Central's promotion of a candidacy.

Noble said it would pretty clearly violate the law for the owner of a cable station to decide to give a talk show -- or otherwise hand over editorial control of a program -- to a favored candidate.

Comedy Central representatives did not immediately return calls seeking comment

Colbert's Cash Flow

Noble said that one key threshold for the FEC to consider will be whether he's an actual candidate for federal office. By one definition, a candidate is anyone who has raised or spent at least $5,000 to pursue office, Noble said.

No danger there yet for Colbert. As he put it Thursday, he has raised "zero-point-no-million dollars" for his campaign.

"As a practical matter, I'd think the FEC is going to stay out of it unless he starts soliciting a lot of money," Noble said. "If he was to start soliciting contributions, it could be a lot more serious."

The FEC could consider Colbert's entire campaign satire, which may allow corporate backing under the exemption that allows media organizations to report and comment on candidates as they choose.

But Colbert's continued candidacy makes it more likely that he'll actually have an impact on the election -- which makes him difficult to ignore, Noble said.

"Everybody is very cautious, not wanting to take this too seriously, or to say that campaign finance laws are going to stop satire, or what is clearly a joke," he said. "But he's trying to get on the ballot, and he could in fact affect the election."

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