"Colbert Super PAC transfer, activate!"
With those words, some cheap special effects, and the help of "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart, former Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter cleared a legal path for comedian and Super PAC founder Stephen Colbert to run for president.
Colbert 2012? It's possible, thanks in part to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that Colbert credited in kicking off his exploratory committee Thursday night. "God bless you all, and God bless Citizens United!" he exclaimed on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."
Here's what's going on, and how Jon Stewart keeps Colbert's possible candidacy legal:
A recent survey in South Carolina showed Stephen Colbert with 5% of voter support, compared to 4% for the GOP's Jon Huntsman. (To be fair, Colbert is a South Carolina native, and Huntsman has no chance of winning. I kid, I kid.)
Colbert's third-to-last-place showing in the poll led him to explore a run "for President of the United States of South Carolina," he said on his show. Those last three words make it sound like a joke, but Colbert also took it a step further.
On the advice of his lawyer, former FEC Chairman Trevor Potter, Colbert transferred ownership of Colbert Super PAC to comic pal Jon Stewart.
A Super PAC is an independent political action committee that cannot donate directly to, or coordinate with, candidates for office. Individuals and corporations can donate unlimited amounts of money to a Super PAC, which must disclose its donors.
But a Super PAC can also accept unlimited donations from nonprofit groups -- which do not have to disclose donors, as this New York Times infographic explains. It's a complicated system created in part by Citizens United v. FEC. (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court blog explains the effects of Citizens United on the 2012 race, and linked to the controversial decision.)
Because Colbert is considering a run for office, he could no longer run the Colbert Super PAC, Potter explained. The transfer to Jon Stewart keeps the Super PAC separate from Colbert's campaign. The two are not allowed to coordinate, or they could face stiff fines.
To that end, Colbert Super PAC will now be referred to as the "Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC," Stewart said once the dramatic transfer of Super PAC power was complete:
It appears Jon Stewart's not-run-by-Stephen-Colbert Super PAC has already made its first political move. The PAC has purchased airtime for commercials ahead of South Carolina's primary election, the Palmetto Public Record blog reports.
- Reports: Colbert 'super PAC' buying ad time (USA Today)
- The FEC and the Federal Campaign Finance Law Brochure (Federal Election Commission)
- Browse Election Campaign & Political Lawyers by Location (FindLaw)
- Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FindLaw)