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.
Colbert is just one of several people making presidential runs as a satirical exercise or merely to shake up the primary and electoral process. As Suzi Parker reported:
The political world needs more Vermin Supremes.
Mr. Supreme — and you have to say “Mister” or he sounds like a pizza — wears a funky, boot-shaped hat that makes him look like a wizard. He advocates time travel, opposes zombies and carries a gigantic toothbrush. If he should ever find himself as commander-in-chief, he will pass a law requiring people to brush their teeth.
“Gingivitis has been eroding the gum line of this great nation long enough,” Mr. Supreme said at the New Hampshire Lesser-Known Democratic Candidates Presidential Forum last month. “A country future’s depends on its ability to bite back.”
Oh, and he’ll give every American a pony. Who doesn’t want a pony?
Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman haven’t promised horses — yet. But in South Carolina, who knows how competitive it will get? Ron Paul may have mentioned ponies in some long-lost newsletter. Rick Perry definitely likes horses. And satirical candidates like Mr. Supreme have for decades been an entertaining counterpoint to all of them and the serious contenders who came before them.
In 1968, Pat Paulsen, a comedian and regular on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, announced his presidential campaign. His party: The Straight Talking American Government (STAG) Party. (Did John McCain draw inspiration from Paulsen?)
Comedian Stephen Colbert launched a presidential run in 2008. He ranked higher in some polls than his presidential competitors like Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich. Even though he isn’t on the South Carolina ballot this year, some recent polls show Colbert, a Palmetto State native, ahead of Jon Huntsman.
Such silliness is good for democracy, says Dr. Paul Levinson, a media professor at Fordham University. “Court jesters and satirists have played a good role,” Levinson said. “They point out, in many ways, the absurdities of the political process.”
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