Stephen Colbert: Thank You, God Bless You and God Bless Citizens United
TV host, comedian, writer, and presidential candidate? Stephen Colbert might be adding the latter to his long list of titles; well, presidential candidate for the United States of America of South Carolina anyway.
"I am proud to announce that I am forming an exploratory committee to lay the groundwork for my possible candidacy for president of the United States of South Carolina," Colbert announced to an amped-up crowd on his late-night Comedy Central show 'The Colbert Report.'
Of course, there is no actual United States of South Carolina. And even if Colbert were looking to run in the January 21st primary, the filing deadline for South Carolina's primary ballot is long past, and South Carolina does not allow write-ins in their presidential primary.
Rather Colbert's announcement was a stunt in his long running narrative to call attention to the problems of the superPACs - the independent expenditure committees with unlimited fundraising ability - which are so prevalent in this election cycle.
Colbert began his show by inviting out former Federal Election Commission chairman Trevor Potter, playing the role of Colbert's personal lawyer, or, as Colbert also described him, his "money's spiritual advisor." Colbert and Potter engaged in a dialogue about the do's and don'ts of superPACs, and Colbert asked Potter if he could join the race and maintain control over his super-PAC.
"No … you cannot be a candidate and run a superPAC, that would be coordinating with yourself," said Potter. "You can have it run by someone else."
At this point Colbert invited fellow late-night star Jon Stewart out onto the set. Colbert asked Potter if it would be ok if he transferred control of his superPAC to Stewart, even though the two are business partners. They joked that they were starting a combination bagel shop and travel agency called "From Schmeer to Eternity."
"Being business partners does not count as coordinating, legally," explained Potter.
The bit continued as Colbert and Stewart engaged in a "transfer of power," and afterwards Mr. Stewart and Mr. Potter each left the set, and Colbert made his "announcement," balloons dropped, and the audience went wild.
The rise of the superPAC began in 2010 when the Supreme Court ruled that independent spending for political purposes was protected under the first amendment, in the landmark case of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. The irreverent segment offered a thoughtful critique of these new groups who are legally not allowed to coordinate with the candidates they are supporting, but are often run by former staffers, highlighting the strong ties that bind candidates to these powerful organizations.
"With your help and with possibly the help of some outside group that I am not coordinating with, we can explore taking this country back," Colbert proclaimed just before going to a commercial break. "Thank you, God bless you, and God bless Citizens United."