The host of “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central has spent months riffing on the notion of a political committee dedicated to his enrichment, part of a broad satire poking fun at court rulings allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. He wants permission to let his network’s parent company, Viacom, help him in the effort.
“You, the Colbert Nation, could have a voice in the form of my voice shouted through a megaphone made of cash,” he told his audience recently.
But while Colbert is playing for laughs, many experts worry that the request will further loosen election laws by blurring the line between broadcast personalities and politicians, giving media companies freer range to act as de facto political groups.
The episode illustrates the sense of chaos that has enveloped the nation’s campaign-finance system as regulations have been steadily chipped away by the courts and by Republican FEC commissioners, who take a dim view of many election rules. Just this week, the Supreme Court threw out part of Arizona’s public-financing law, ruling that it is unconstitutional to provide matching funds for candidates facing well-funded rivals.
“Obviously Mr. Colbert is playing this for humor,” said Lisa Gilbert of the Public Citizen advocacy group. “But I’m not sure if he intended these far-reaching consequences.”
At the normally staid FEC, the agency’s small contingent of bureaucrats and little-known commissioners have been scrambling to prepare for Colbert’s scheduled appearance Thursday morning. Federal and local police have been notified, extra chairs are being squeezed into the cramped FEC meeting room and media organizations are being asked for head counts.
When Colbert first made a show of dropping off his initial paperwork at the FEC in early May, about 500 fans came to cheer him on.
“It might be the only entertaining FEC meeting in its history,” quipped Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center.
Cynthia L. Bauerly, a Democratic appointee who serves as the commission’s rotating chairman, declined to discuss the substance of the legal issues raised by Colbert’s request.
Colbert has made a long and successful career as a TV comic — first on “The Daily Show” and now on his program — by deftly skewering politicians in his guise as a self-important, slightly ridiculous conservative commentator. Colbert has spent much of the past year poking fun at the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which found that corporations had the same rights as individuals when it came to political speech.
Colbert eventually arrived at the idea of forming his own super PAC, a new breed of political committee that is allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from corporations and individuals.