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Stephen Colbert visits the Federal Election Commission

The reports are coming in from Stephen’s trip to Washington, D.C., today to stop by the FEC and file papers to formally request an advisory opinion on the formation of Colbert Super PAC. Throughout the day, the @StephenAtHome Twitter feed had regular reminders for people to join him at 4 PM at the FEC building. Thanks to Zoner gentoo, who was present for the occasion and told us about it, we know that a crowd of about 150-175 people showed up, and sang “Happy Birthday” to him before he gave his statement. Big tip of the hat to another Zoner, Christiane, who pointed us toward this video from HuffPo posted on You Tube!

HuffPo also has a full news story covering the event which includes a summary of Stephen’s efforts so far to form his PAC. More coverage can be found at TPM and the ABC News blog The Note (h/t SW). Both of those articles have additional video, although they’re brief and the quality isn’t great.

Two more articles I came across do a great job of discussing Stephen’s purpose and the impact of his efforts to form Colbert SuperPAC. Over at Splitsider, the article explains how Stephen is exposing “some brand new and potentially devastating realities in campaign financing, something that most voters are not even aware of…because these new rules are as confusing and opaque and absurd as most deliberately cryptic money things usually are.” And this article at Politico has a good analysis of both the point Stephen is trying to make about campaign finance and the implications of any decision handed down by the FEC.

Stephen Colbert at the FEC? Really.
by Kenneth P. Vogel 5/13/11 4:02 PM EDT

…[W]hen Colbert appeared at the Federal Election Commission in Washington Friday afternoon seeking permission to use his show to promote the PAC, the joke took on the contours of an actual political cause – exposing what he sees as the ridiculousness of the nation’s loophole-ridden system regulating money in politics.

Yet the stunt could have real – and potentially broad – implications in the world of campaign finance, not just for the comedian’s as-yet-unformed political committee “Colbert Super PAC.”

If nothing else, it could help the cause of campaign finance advocates by highlighting the ability of corporations to spend unlimited amounts to support or oppose candidates, and – as Lisa Gilbert of Public Citizen describes it – expose “the clear conflict of interest that Fox media has as they allow political figures to promote their PACs on a supposedly neutral media outlet.”

Democrats and advocates for stricter campaign finance rules hope “the Colbert bump” – the comedian’s term for popularity boosts he asserts politicians receive after they appear or are featured on his show – carries over to the Democratic push to blunt the impact of the Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. FEC.

If the six commissioners of the FEC take Colbert’s request seriously, and decides to grant him wide latitude in using “The Colbert Report” to promote his PAC – both very big ifs – it “could have a sweeping effect. That would be a troubling development,” said Paul Ryan, a lawyer at the Campaign Legal Center, a non-profit group that pushes for tighter restrictions on money in politics.

Likewise, said Gilbert, if the commission goes the other way, ruling that any airtime Colbert devotes to promoting the PAC should be treated, and disclosed, as a so-called in-kind contribution from Viacom, it could “have a real election law impact,” in part by restricting the freedom of a handful of high-profile Republicans who serve as paid Fox News pundits and are affiliated with PACs, including Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Karl Rove and Dick Morris.

Read the full article here

If you’re having some difficulty getting your brain around these legal issues, as I am, that article will help make things much clearer. Also very helpful, and posted by HuffPo as a .pdf, is the official legal request submitted to the FEC today. The language in the document is very clear and understandable; I’d definitely recommend reading it. Of special note is this paragraph on the second page (emphasis mine):

Mr. Colbert now plans to form an actual federal independent expenditure-only committee named “Colbert Super PAC.” Colbert Super PAC will make only independent expenditures, advertisements that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate and that are not coordinated with any candidate or political party. Colbert Super PAC will also pay usual and normal administrative expenses, including but not limited to, luxury hotel stays, private jet travel, and PAC mementos from Saks Fifth Avenue and Nieman Marcus. It plans to maintain a website, on which it will discuss political events, solicit contributions, and offer opinions on political matters.

I do hope the FEC has a sense of humor!

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