ABC News’ John R. Parkinson (@JRPabcDC) reports:
Stephen Colbert won a judgment at the Federal Election Commission Thursday morning, paving the way for the popular comedian to establish and operate his own political action committee and accept unlimited donations in the 2012 election cycle.
A panel of six FEC commissioners ruled in favor of Colbert’s advisory opinion request, which questioned the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 whether his political action committee, Colbert Super PAC, is able to solicit and accept unlimited campaign contributions for the purpose of making independent expenditures from individuals, political committees, labor organizations, and corporations.
The commission voted 5-1 to clear the way for Colbert to begin accepting donations. In an advisory opinion adopted by the commission, the panel ruled that "some of Viacom's activities would fall within the press exemption, others would not." Any advertisement that is broadcast on Colbert's program would fall within the press exemption, thus the costs incurred do not have to be reported. But the FEC also ruled that any Comedy Central / Viacom-produced advertisements cannot air on other shows or networks unless the costs are publically disclosed.
Colbert was generally muted during the proceedings, cracking no jokes and leaving the bulk of the legal discussion up to his attorney, Trevor Potter, a former chairman at the FEC currently at the powerful Washington law firm Caplin and Drysdale.
But afterwards, Colbert emerged from the FEC’s downtown headquarters to the delight of a throng of waiting fans, press and paparazzi, and declared victory with his usual touch of satire.
“Moments ago the Federal Election Commission made their ruling. Ladies and gentlemen I am sorry to say we won!” Colbert exclaimed to the cheers of the crowd. “I am a Super PAC and so can you!”
Colbert asked for the public meeting to inquire whether the 1971 law’s press exemption would cover costs incurred by the U.S. subsidiaries of Viacom, Inc., including Comedy Central, or whether the costs must be disclosed as contributions to his PAC.
At issue is a Supreme Court ruling last year that affirmed unlimited campaign contributions by corporations, labor unions and individuals. The stunt was perceived as an effort by Colbert to exploit campaign finance rules, and to draw attention to election law loopholes some say are exploited by other political heavyweights like Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin, who appear regularly on cable television despite running their own PACs.
“Now some people have cynically asked is this some kind of joke? Well, I for one don’t think that participating in democracy is a joke, but I do have one federal election law joke if you’d like to hear it,” Colbert said. “Knock Knock (Crowd: Who’s there?). Unlimited union and corporate campaign contributions (Crowd: Unlimited union and corporate campaign contributions, who?). That’s the thing. I don’t think I should have to tell you!”
As he finished speaking, Colbert was mobbed by the crowd and accepted hundreds of dollars of donations by swiping credit cards on a modified iPad and snagging any paper money fans lunged in his general direction.
“There will be others who say ‘Stephen Colbert, what will you do with that unrestricted Super PAC money?’” Colbert said. “I don’t know. Give it to me and let’s find out, because I don’t know about you, but I don’t accept limits on my free speech. I don’t know about you, but I do not accept the status quo. But I do accept Visa, Mastercard and American Express.”
“$50 or less please, because then I don’t have to keep a record of who gave it to me,” he quipped. “Also, please remember that your gift is not tax-deductible for you. It is tax exempt for me.”
Colbert said he is not running for president “yet.” When asked by ABC News how soon he may begin running advertisements, Colbert said it depended on how much money he is able to fundraise.