Colbert — who has his own Super PAC — kicked off the show on Thursday by bringing out his lawyer, Trevor Potter, to explain that no, presidential candidates cannot run their own Super PACs. It is not allowed. The conversation went something like this:
Colbert: “Can I run for president and keep my Super PAC?”
Lawyer: “No...You cannot be a candidate and run a Super PAC. That would be coordinating with yourself.”
Colbert: “But...I love my Super PAC. And I love the money.”
And so on. Then Trevor explained that someone else could take over the Super PAC, as long as it wasn’t someone he could strategize with. Wonder who that could be?
Cue a dramatic entrance from fellow Comedy Central late night comedian Jon Stewart, who just had two words: “I’m honored.” After signing some documents and holding hands for a “super activation,” Stewart officially took over for Colbert’s Super PAC.
For many, the details of the laws that govern super PACs seem complicated and difficult to put in context. The simplicity and humor of Colbert’s satire may educate some viewers. As Erik Wemple explained:
An anticipated edition of “The Colbert Report” last night made big headlines, even before it aired. Host Stephen Colbert handed over the direction of the Colbert Super PAC to Comedy Central colleague Jon Stewart, whereupon Colbert declared the establishment of a exploratory committee “for my possible candidacy for president of the United States of South Carolina.”
The segment included a cameo by Trevor Potter, Colbert’s super PAC lawyer and a former Federal Elections Commission chairman. Potter answered the legal questions involved in the super PAC transfer and assisted with the paperwork.
The fun and games lasted about seven minutes. Seven highly educational minutes, that is. Ever since super PACs emerged — following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January 2010 — serious journalism has attempted to explain them, to investigate them, to follow their every move. There’s been no shortage of the serious journalism on super PACs: Every serious journalistic outlet, from the Huffington Post through the New York Times through every serious broadcast outlet.
All this serious journalism on super PACs has stressed — to astounding redundancy — that the super PACs may not coordinate their activities with a candidate that they’re supporting. That notion is a matter of rote learning for any politically involved U.S. citizen.
Yet the whole concept gained a level of clarity and poignancy in last night’s Colbert segment that hundreds of thousands of acts of serious journalism never managed to accomplish.