Colbert Bid Sheds Light on Citizens United Flaws

Last Thursday, Stephen Colbert shook up the 2012 Presidential primary season by announcing that he was forming an exploratory committee to consider entering the Republican race for “President of the United States of South Carolina.” But there was one hitch: Colbert was also serving as head of his Super PAC, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” Because candidates are not allowed to coordinate with Super PACs, Colbert had to hand over control of his Super PAC to someone who he is definitely not coordinating with – his friend and “business partner,” Jon Stewart (catch the sarcasm?).

Colbert explained his strategy in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. You can watch the entire interview online via ABC News.

Colbert’s South Carolina campaign is really a faux bid for the presidency — but how far will he take it? For the past two years, the Comedy Central satirist has focused on drawing attention to the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which declared unlimited, anonymous corporate spending in federal elections constitutional.  The result is that corporations and labor unions, while still prohibited from contributing directly to a campaign, are now legally able to use as much of their general funds as they wish to advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate.

Citizens United also birthed the Super PAC, a new kind of Political Action Committee that can endorse or oppose candidates but cannot “coordinate” with any candidates or their campaigns.  Super PACs have played a prominent role in the Republican primaries thus far, with independent ads flooding the airwaves in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. One of the many problems with SuperPACs is that “coordination” and “independence,” as Colbert pointed out, are loosely defined. For example, one such Super PAC, Restore our Future, was created by three former aides to Republican candidate Mitt Romney, and its ads mostly attack other Republican candidates, particularly former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and strongly imply support for Mitt Romney. On the other side, Priorities USA, the SuperPAC established to work toward President Obama’s re-election, is also run by former Obama campaign staffers and other individuals with connections to the president.

Colbert appears to have set up a Super PAC with the goal of exposing the flaws in the current campaign finance system, showing that these independent groups – even if they are “fake” like his — are free to spend money without adequate restrictions or regulations. It’s a genius strategy to shine a light on the massive failure of Citizens United and the damage the decision has inflicted on our current electoral process.

Image courtesy of Associated Press.

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Susan Paykin

About Susan Paykin

Susan Paykin is a 2011-2012 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the RAC. She is a native of Oakland, NJ, and recently graduated from Brandeis University.

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