Campaign Finance Law Can't Take a Joke

So what Stephen Colbert asked for was a determination by the FEC that Colbert SuperPAC was exempt from reporting the value of Viacom’s contribution because the PAC's operations would fit under the normal course of business for a media entity.

This request had "reformers" up in arms, because if granted, they believed it would have allowed other on-air personalities to use their shows to promote their PACs without having to disclose the support of their corporate media employers. For some reason Fox News came up a lot in these concerns.

Last week the FEC ruled that the support by Viacom given to Colbert SuperPAC that results in ads and commentary appearing only on The Colbert Report won't have to be reported, but if ads are run in paid-for advertising spots on other networks and shows it will have to be reported.

So while Colbert is claiming victory because the FEC ruled he could form his PAC (which again, was never really in doubt), Colbert SuperPAC is likely dead as anything other than a comedy skit on The Colbert Report, unless he is able to raise enough money to produce and air ads independent of any Viacom resources.

At one point in the process, Colbert complained to his attorney: “Why does it get so complicated to do this? I mean this is page after page of legalese. All I’m trying to do is affect the 2012 elections. It’s not like I’m trying to install iTunes.”

Unwittingly, Colbert asked a monumentally important question. In our system of government, we all are supposed to be able to try to affect elections -- that’s the point of having a democratic republic. And in fact, Stephen Colbert already has a significant platform for trying to affect elections -- it’s called The Colbert Report, and there’s never been any doubt that he is free to use that platform to make whatever contribution he feels like to our nation’s political discussion.

It's not the lesson he perhaps intended to teach, but he’s revealing what the rest of America -- those without a national television show and a media exemption from any regulation of political speech -- must endure simply to exercise their First Amendment rights to share their own views.