Stephen Colbert returns to Washington on Thursday to stir up trouble, this time at the Federal Election Commission.
The satirical pundit of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” is scheduled to appear at an open meeting of the FEC to answer questions about his super PAC, a tongue-in-cheek political action committee dedicated to himself.
The visit puts the FEC in the position of trying not to be the butt of Colbert’s jokes.
Former FEC Chairman David Mason cautioned that commissioners could find themselves in a tough position when dealing with Colbert.
“If they just play it straight, then they become the straight men for his jokes and are portrayed as witless, clueless bureaucrats,” said Mason, who helps campaigns, PACs and parties stay in compliance as a vice president at Aristotle Inc. “And if they try to trade jokes with him, it’s like mud wrestling with a pig. You get dirty, and he doesn’t mind.”
Colbert walks the line between political relevance and comedic absurdity, but there is usually a serious argument beneath the antics. In this case, he’s drawing attention to recent court rulings allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on electioneering.
So far, the FEC has played it pretty straight with Colbert. For example, the comedian is seeking an advisory opinion regarding his television show’s parent company, and the FEC has released three draft opinions totaling 51 pages, including a new draft on Tuesday.
“Certainly the commission is treating this as seriously as it treats any other advisory opinion request,” FEC spokeswoman Judith Ingram said.
The problem is accommodating the loyal fans who make up the Colbert Nation.
“It’s really a crowd-control issue,” Ingram said. “We are anticipating, based on his last visit, that there could be more demand for seating than usual.”
The FEC normally provides seating for about 70 people at its meetings, but more than 200 crowded the streets in front of the FEC when Colbert dropped off his advisory opinion request in May, even though there was little advance notice.
Ingram pointed out that the FEC’s website streams live audio of its meetings. C-SPAN has not confirmed whether it intends to cover the event, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
Although the FEC is taking Colbert seriously, campaign finance watchdogs are not amused by Colbert’s political antics.
“Mr. Colbert makes it clear that he is in the entertainment business,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. “But it happens to involve very serious campaign issues, and some of the draft advisory opinions would open up gaping holes in the campaign finance laws.”
Campaign finance experts expect the commissioners to approve the Colbert PAC on Thursday and to allow it to raise and spend unlimited money as a super PAC.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.