Super PAC to the rescue?

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Political action committees (PACs) and so-called super PACs spent more than $60 million on advertisement for America’s 2012 presidential candidates last year, using what Stephen Colbert calls the “megaphone of cash.”

This was made possible by the Supreme Court’s ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission earlier that year, which states that the first amendment prohibited the federal government from censoring corporate or union-funded free speech. Colbert, playing his character as what he calls a “well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot,” commented that he agrees “there should be unlimited corporate money and I want some of it … I don’t want to be the one chump who doesn’t have any.”

The issue with the ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is that it essentially equates free speech with money. PACs are private groups that try to advance issues or legislation and are thereby given the freedom to generate funding for their goals with minimal regulation.

These organizations exempt themselves from taxes by labeling themselves 501(c) organizations and are able to do so as long as the stated purpose of the organization is not campaigning.

In June 2011, the Federal Election Commission voted 5-1 in favour of giving Colbert a super PAC media exemption for funding. By the end of the summer his PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, had 165,000 members. The Colbert super PAC, SHH Institute, a 501(c) organization, was created on Sept. 29 with the stated purpose of educating the public.

There was no issue with the fact that Stephen Colbert was the president, secretary and treasurer of both organizations or that he could use his resources from his television show to anonymously fund his own interests.

Colbert calls this his “campaign finance glory hole” because “you stick your money in the hole, the other person accepts your donations and because it’s happening anonymously, no one feels dirty.” Recently, the government had tried to make corporate funding of political issues and legislation more transparent with the DISCLOSE act.

The bill failed to pass in the Senate and, thus, funding for much of the political broadcast remains unknown.

The use of funding generated by Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, has been seen in Iowa during the Aug. 2011 Ames Straw Poll when Colbert organized for two endorsement ads to be run on two of the three local news networks.

The ads, titled “Episode IV: A New Hope” and “Behind the Green Corn,” asked residents to vote for “Rick Parry with an ‘a’ instead of Republican candidate Rick Perry. Months later Colbert released “Foul Balls” and “Ball Gags” parodying the 2011 NBA lockout.

Although superficially it may seem that Colbert’s use of the political process for comedy is informal and irrelevant, it attempts to expose a more profound injustice rooted within the American electoral system.

The message is clear in “Episode IV: A New Hope” when Ames residents hear that “a storm is gathering over Iowa, a money storm […] out-of-state groups like Grow PAC and Jobs for Iowa PAC are flooding the Iowa airwaves […] telling you to vote Rick Perry at the Ames Straw Poll […] they think they can buy your vote with their unlimited super Pac money.”

Money does not equal free speech and private groups should not be able to discretely fund their own interests to such an extreme that their voice drowns out everybody else’s.


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