Stephen Colbert Super PAC Hits A Snag

FEC will advise 'Colbert Report' host on legal hurdles.

ByABC News
May 20, 2011, 12:41 PM

May 21, 2011 — -- Last month, late night comedian Stephen Colbert launched a "super PAC," the newest form of political fundraising committee, allowing him to reprise his previous efforts to lampoon the outsized role of corporate money in American elections.

But over the past month, what started as a humorous dressing down of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark campaign finance ruling in the case of Citizens United has turned into a unexpectedly serious look at the complexities of the way the government regulates political spending.

In recent days, campaign lawyers of all stripes have weighed in on the legal issues facing Colbert's super PAC, and the comedian himself had to hire a high-powered Washington election lawyer to try and resolve whether talking about his fundraising committee on his late night show, "The Colbert Report," actually could create legal headaches for Comedy Central's parent company, Viacom.

Last week, Colbert sought formal guidance from the Federal Election Commission on several tricky legal questions. Though when he arrived in Washington to submit his request to the regulatory panel, he made it abundantly clear this is still more about laughs than anything else.

Colbert proclaimed that his super PAC, called Colbert Super PAC, would use the money it raised for political ads, but also for "normal administrative expenses, including but not limited to, luxury hotel stays, private jet travel, and PAC mementos from Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus."

ABC News cameras were on hand when he pushed through a crowd of reporters gathered outside the normally staid and sparsely attended FEC meeting.

"I believe the Citizens United decision was the right one -- there should be unlimited corporate money -- and I want some of it," Colbert said. "I don't want to be the one chump who doesn't have any."

The real issue facing the FEC is whether the air time Colbert uses to promote his super PAC could be legally construed to be an in kind corporate contribution, and if so, whether Viacom will be forced to try and determine how much that air time is worth.

"Depending on how the FEC rules, this could turn into a green light for Fox or MSNBC to start to allow personalities to actively solicit donations on their shows," Thomas said.

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