Politico reports that Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert’s attempt to form a political action committee in order to lampoon the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has put campaign finance activists in anything but a laughing mood. Here's the story from Politico's Kenneth Vogel:
“I think Colbert is trying to dramatize problems in the campaign finance world in the way that he dramatizes other things,” said longtime campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer, a longtime advocate for stricter campaign finance rules who is president of Democracy 21. “But nevertheless, the proposals here would potentially open gaping disclosure loopholes in the campaign finance laws.”
Wertheimer is so concerned about what Colbert is doing, in fact, that Democracy 21 has joined with the Campaign Legal Center, another advocacy group, to petition the FEC to reject his request because it could result in the “radical evisceration” of campaign finance rules.
If Colbert gets his way before the FEC, it could blur the lines between political money and media to an unprecedented extent.
Here’s another way to look at it. Colbert’s stunt has unintentionally revealed the ridiculous nature of campaign finance regulations. As Steve Simpson and Paul Sherman of the Institute for Justice recently observed in The Wall Street Journal:
Campaign-finance laws are so complicated that few can navigate them successfully and speak during elections—which is what the First Amendment is supposed to protect. As the Supreme Court noted in Citizens United, federal laws have created "71 distinct entities" that "are subject to different rules for 33 different types of political speech." The FEC has adopted 568 pages of regulations and thousands of pages of explanations and opinions on what the laws mean." Legalese" doesn't begin to describe this mess.
So what is someone who wants to speak during elections to do? If you're Stephen Colbert, the answer is to instruct high-priced attorneys to plead your case with the FEC... How's that for a punch line? Rich and successful television personality needs powerful corporate lawyers to convince the FEC to allow him to continue making fun of the Supreme Court. Hilarious.