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Comedian Stephen Colbert on Wednesday night went straight to the Federal Election Commission to ask for an exemption for his new political action committee he said aims to be "a force in the 2012 election."
"The Colbert Report" sketch, like much of his straight man routine, went after politicians in the news. He highlighted the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision allowing for unlimited corporate donations to a "super PAC." He also mentioned candidates who appear on Fox News to talk about PACs and Donald Trump's discussion of his potential 2012 candidacy on his NBC reality show. (Watch that clip here.)
So, Colbert filed an official FEC request with the help of his lawyer and former FEC Chairman Trevor Potter, asking the agency whether Colbert's coverage of his new PAC may receive a media exemption.
This exemption would mean Comedy Central and its parent company, Viacom, would not be considered to be giving Colbert's PAC a corporate donation by allowing him to discuss the PAC on TV.
Colbert’s advisory opinion request was prompted by a letter to Colbert from Viacom worried about his frequent mentions of Colbert PAC during his late-night cable show. (Watch a clip of Colbert reading Viacom's letter.)
"They are nervous that Viacom is going to end up making an illegal corporate contribution to your PAC," Potter said before the studio audience.
"They say that if it is counted as a contribution, they would have to show it on the FEC reports,” he continued. “There might be a complaint or an investigation about whether they showed enough and they would have to turn over their internal bookkeeping and potentially reveal Viacom secrets."
Between quips about lawyers and an impression of Tom Brokaw, Colbert asked how he could navigate through current campaign finance regulations to allow his coverage of his PAC to not be considered a corporate contribution.
"Why does it get so complicated to do this," Colbert said. "I mean this is page after page of legalese. All I'm trying to do is affect the 2012 election. It's not like I am trying to install iTunes."
Following the five-minute comedy segment, Potter pulled out an advisory opinion request that could have a larger impact than entertainment for night owls who watch Comedy Central. The FEC's decision could also affect other major politicians like Karl Rove, who has appeared on news shows to plug his super PAC, American Crossroads.
“We got a letter and it is asking to give me the media exemption,” Colbert said on his show. “And then I could talk about my super PAC and do anything I wanted as long as I did it like news.”
The FEC has 60 days to get back to Colbert and decide whether he is eligible for the media exemption.
“That is a long time,” Colbert said.
“It is, but it’s a government agency,” joked Potter, who served as Sen. John McCain's counsel on FEC matters during the 2008 campaign.
It wouldn't be the first time Colbert has inserted himself into the national political debate. He mock-ran for president in his home state of South Carolina in 2007, and joked that this candidacy would be sponsored by Doritos.
He appeared alongside Jon Stewart at a "rally for sanity" just before the 2010 elections.
He also testified about immigration on Capitol Hill.
Watch the clip from Thursday night:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Corp Constituency - Trevor Potter|