A strict social-conservative, a tithing Mormon, a former Libertarian and a congressional D.C. native are the popular faces of this year’s group of Republican nominees, but in recent weeks their claims to fame have been slightly upstaged by the ever more popular Comedy Central comedian Stephen Colbert.
On Jan. 12, Colbert announced on his show “The Colbert Report” his plan to form an “exploratory committee to lay the groundwork” for his candidacy for president of the United States (of South Carolina). This would bring Colbert’s total runs for a place as our American president to two.
Since his first run in 2008, Colbert has grown more involved in the nation’s political game. In 2010 Colbert (the character) testified before the U.S. Congress about the poor working conditions of migrant workers and later hosted a political rally with his Comedy Central counterpart Jon Stewart.
These events, and others like it, have left many people to wonder just what kind of ramifications Colbert’s involvement in politics could have. Is Colbert a serious threat to our traditional political system?
At the start of his late-night comedy show Colbert claimed that his only goal with his character was to have fun and make people laugh. And that may be true, but in the case of Colbert’s involvement in American politics there is something of greater concern this year than his farce run for president.
In June of 2011, Colbert was granted permission by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to form an independent expenditure-only committee, or what’s better known as a Super PAC.
One year earlier, the Supreme Court passed a controversial ruling in Citizens United v. FEC stating that the government could not prohibit unions and corporations from making independent expenditures in politics. This ruling allowed wealthy individuals and corporations to financially influence politics under virtually no restrictions.
A subsequent Supreme Court ruling that year in the case of Speechnow.org v. FEC established that limiting those contributions would violate the First Amendment rights of corporations. Most recently, CNN has reported that so far, Super PACs have spent an estimated total of $35 million on the 2012 presidential race.
In January, when he announced his run for president, Colbert gave over control of the Super PAC and its undisclosed amount of funds to Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” This year in an interview with New York Times Magazine, Colbert claimed that his aim with the Super PAC was once again solely for the sake of comedy.
But all of his outlandish political acts are sending a loud and clear message about the absurdity of the changes in our political campaign finance system and drawing attention to the need for an overhaul.
Colbert himself summed it up best when he spoke at the College of Charleston on Jan. 23 during his recent campaign rally with former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain: “The pundits have asked, ‘is this all some joke?’ We’ve all heard it, haven’t we? And I say, if they are calling being allowed to form a Super PAC … and spend that money on political ads and for personal enrichment, and then surrender that Super PAC to one of my closest friends while I explore a run for office — if that is a joke, then they are saying that our entire campaign finance system is a joke.”
In light of the 2010 Citizens United decision to view corporations as people, it seems that Colbert and his eccentric acts really aren’t the biggest threat to American politics. Instead that title should go to those in our political system who have carelessly given Constitutional rights only intended for American citizens to large corporations.
As for Colbert’s recent political run — he couldn’t get on the ballot in South Carolina, but encouraged his viewers to vote for Cain, whose name remained on the ballot despite dropping out of the race back in December.
The result? Colbert/Cain received more than 6,000 votes … merely 1 percent.