The Federal Elections Commission today approved comedian Stephen Colbert’s application to form a super PAC. Super PAC’s came on the scene in 2010 after US Supreme Court rulings in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission and SpeechNow.org v Federal Election Commission struck down spending and contribution limits to campaigns.
The difference between a “normal” Political Action Committee and a super PAC is in the disclosure laws and uncapped “issue” expenditures, meaning a super PAC can spend whatever it can raise on targeted issues but not donate directly to a campaign.
Sarah Mimms of the Atlantic outlines the implications this could have on media involvement in US elections.
The request comes down to one essential issue: whether Viacom can legally donate production costs, airtime and use of Colbert’s staff to create ads for the so-called super PAC, to be played both on “The Colbert Report” and as paid advertisements other networks and shows.
If the FEC grants Colbert a press exemption, the decision could have a drastic effect on media involvement in federal elections, potentially opening the door for media outlets that employ politicians as commentators to aid favored candidates through undisclosed contributions. Those figures include Fox News contributor Karl Rove, who founded American Crossroads, and former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) who heads “Huck PAC” and hosts a show on Fox News.
Several campaign finance reform advocates are expressing concern over three proposed changes the FEC will consider on Thursday. Granting Colbert’s request in full, they argue, would allow media companies to anonymously fund the political activities of their employees, under the protection of the FEC’s press exemption…
…Granting the exemption would produce what the reformers called “a sweeping and damaging impact on disclosure laws,” which would allow media companies to fund employees’ political activities anonymously. Politicians who are employed by media companies could use their television shows as platforms to raise unlimited funds for their PACs, without having to disclose it, the reform groups said.