When Stephen Colbert discovered that a South Carolina poll gave him a higher approval rating than candidate Jon Huntsman, the South Carolinian decided to grab the bull by the horns and run for president himself. The comedian went on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” to make a serious point about money in politics and Citizens United.
The laws governing campaign financing were radically altered by last year’s Supreme Court Citizens United decision.
That decision allows Political Action Committees to accept unlimited contributions from individuals, unions, and corporations to promote issues and candidates. The donors may remain anonymous, but the decision prohibits the committees from coordinating with candidates.
Stephanopoulos asked Colbert if he believes the outcome of the 2012 presidential election will be based on how much money each candidate raises. In other words, whether dollars spent equals votes.
“No, replied Colbert. “It’s how much speech they can express, because money equals speech. It doesn’t matter if the speech comes from money or comes from your mouth,” he said, reflecting the Court’s reasoning.
“So you agree with the Supreme Court?” asked the host.
“On almost everything,” answered the comedian. Maintaining his persona of right-wing blowhard, Colbert repeated, “Money equals speech. Therefore, the more money you have, the more you can speak. That just stands to reason. If corporations are people, corporations should be able to speak.”
Colbert the serious actor is determined to make his point that the Supreme Court erred greatly in opening the campaign financial floodgates. Last spring he formed his own super PAC and challenged the FEC (Federal Election Commission) to let him ask for donations on his own program, a challenge that he won.
“Are you worried,” asked Stefanopoulos, “about what money is doing to this political environment?”
Staying in character, Colbert responded, “Why would you worry about what money is doing to the political process?” Super PACs, he said, are running $11 million dollars worth of ads in South Carolina, outspending the candidates two to one. “That just means, according to Citizens United, there’s just more speech than ever before in South Carolina.”
Last week Colbert transferred ownership to Jon Stewart of his super PAC, now renamed “The Definitely Not Coordinated With Stephen Colbert Super PAC.” He had to divest himself of the PAC in order to form an exploratory committee for his possible candidacy. He had to comply with the Citizens United mandate that super PACs not coordinate with candidates or contribute directly to political campaigns or parties.
Colbert’s former super PAC is now running an ad in South Carolina calling Romney a “serial killer.” It shows Romney asserting that “Corporations are people, my friend.”
When Romney headed Bain capital, the firm invested in companies and streamlined their operations by trimming back their personnel. Some of these restructured companies eventually went bankrupt, so it can be said that Romney effectively killed a series of businesses. “If Mitt Romney really believes that ‘corporations are people,’” the ad says, then the conclusion must be that Mitt Romney is a serial killer.
Colbert denied any responsibility for ads run by his former super PAC. Channeling Newt Gingrich, he vowed he would insist that any falsehoods in the ad be redacted.
This election season is comic for the spectators, but tragic for the future of the country.