Thursday, June 30, 2011

PRIMARY DOC: Colbert's FEC Response

Hey everyone, remember how Stephen Colbert was forming a SuperPAC? Well, he just got his permission from the FEC. There's a danger that Colbert will set a precedent that will allow FOX to sponsor Sarah Palin's SuperPAC in a more direct way, but, hell, it's not like they were constrained before.

I just hope that Congress gets so embarrassed that they close the SuperPAC loophole.

At any rate, to celebrate, I wanted to share Stephen Colbert's lawyer's responses to the FEC, to illustrate a few things.


If you look through the questions, there isn't a very clear theme as to what the FEC is trying to prevent. But there is one question that basically asks whether Colbert is serious:
"Is the continued operation of Colbert Super PAC's website and activities dependent on the show? If the show stopped covering Colbert Super PAC because it was thought to be stale or no longer funny, would Viacom cease providing support to it?"
It's a bit ridiculous of a question -- I mean, does anyone think SarahPAC would continue to operate if Sarah Palin died or got bored?

Otherwise, their questions about the Super PAC's independence from the show are pretty standard -- who will own Colbert Super PAC's intellectual property (answer: Super PAC will own the logo and any "off-air" content; Viacom will own anything broadcast on-air), who has editorial control (Stephen Colbert, although if he really pissed Viacom off they could just fire him and take away the money), who has access to the material (not just Viacom).

The one place where they do make a legitimate point is when they ask what happens if Federal candidates for the Presidency come on the show. My hunch is that now that Colbert's Super PAC exists, he will not have any presidential candidates on the show. The legal interaction sounds a bit of a headache.


More illuminating, actually, is the lawyer recounting what Colbert has done previously where his political activity has been subject of the show:

Mr. Colbert, as host of The Colbert Report, considers the segments about his political activity an essential and unique aspect of the show. As Mr. Colbert stated in a recent media interview, "[w]e throw ourselves into the pond of the news, and then we report on our own ripples."

To that end, Mr. Colbert has placed himself in positions where his off-set actions and experiences can serve as material for the show. The Advisory Opinion Request provided the examples of the Mr. Colbert's "Hail to the Cheese Stephen Colbert Nacho Cheese Doritos 2008 Presidential Campaign" and the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" that he co-hosted with Jon Stewart in October 2010.' In addition to those two examples. The Colbert Report has featured Mr. Colbert's off-set activities on many occasions, including his congressional testimony on immigration, his U.S.O. Tour to Baghdad, his public dispute with the Associated Press about the word "truthiness," and his sponsorship of the U.S. Speedskating Team.

When you lay it out like that, you can see that Colbert has a strategy of overlaying his political activity and the lens of the show.


So why did Colbert win? Because it's incredibly subjective, and the FEC appear to have a sense of humor.

For contrast, Stephen Colbert wanted to naturalize citizens on his show, but even though Homeland Security approved it, the White House vetoed the idea. Why? Because they thought he would make a mockery of the evening. In other words, they find him offensive.

Nancy Pelosi also doesn't think Colbert adds value: she and Rahm Emanuel (back when he was in the House) told Democrats not to go on the Colbert Report.

There's no real reason why the FEC couldn't go the same way. In fact, if this process has highlighted anything, it's highlighted how subjective these instruments are. There's no fine line between Viacom and Colbert Super PAC. There's no fine line between The Colbert Report and Colbert Super PAC. And if the same relationship existed at FOX -- oh wait, it does -- there's no real way to disentangle them. It's all subjective.