The Federal Election Commission on Thursday approved comedian Stephen Colbert's request to form a so-called "Super PAC," a political action committee that can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals.
The Comedy Central star's decision to form the PAC is part of his satiric attempt to highlight the implications of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision last year, which determined that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals and can provide unlimited money for political advertisements.
The Wall Street Journal translates what the ruling's nitty gritty details mean:
FEC said that the costs incurred by Comedy Central’s parent, Viacom Inc., don’t have to be disclosed if the ads run on Mr. Colbert’s show. However, if Mr. Colbert’s political group runs the ads on other networks, then Mr. Colbert must disclose the costs of using Viacom resources to produce the ads.
After the ruling, Colbert addressed a crowd of hundreds outside the commission's headquarters in Washington, D.C. “The FEC made its ruling, and I’m sorry to say, we won!” Colbert announced in his trademark television delivery. "Some have cynically asked if this is some kind of joke. But I don’t think that participating in democracy is a joke. I don’t think that wanting to know what the rules are is a joke.”
To the relief of some campaign finance reform advocates, the FEC voted only to approve the most-narrow interpretation of Colbert's request. Politico notes that the compromise decision has only “relatively narrow potential implications beyond his eponymous nightly faux news show.”
Still, that didn’t stop Colbert from a hero’s welcome outside of the building, where he waded into the crowd with a credit card machine to collect contributions.
Colbert's efforts to form a PAC began in March, when he ran an ad mocking one of Tim Pawlenty's PAC-funded commercials and announced the formation of his own committee. In April, Colbert revealed on his show that Viacom had initially denied his request to form a PAC out of concern that it could violate laws prohibiting corporate contributions to political action groups. But in that same show he made it clear that he would continue trying to form a PAC, following the advice of his lawyer, who pointed out that the Citizens United decision allows Viacom to fund a so-called Super PAC, which can raise unlimited funds as long as it does not coordinate directly with a political campaign.