Comedian Stephen Colbert made a surprise appearance on The Daily Show to “not coordinate” with Jon Stewart who recently took control of the Colbert super PAC Tuesday night.
The pair called Trevor Potter, Colbert’s lawyer from Caplin & Drysdale, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, who has advised him on campaign finance since March 2011, on speakerphone and asked him to let them know if what they were doing was illegal.
Stewart then spent the next few minutes giving Colbert an update on the ads he’d run, airtime purchased and some thoughts on what he should do next with the super PAC while Colbert responded with, “I cannot coordinate with you in any way.”
Potter said they were not doing anything illegal while on air and in an interview said the super PAC money can be spent however Stewart wishes to spend it on practically anything that’s legal.
“One of the reasons (Colbert) talked about it on the show was pointing out that if you have a super PAC and that if people are willing to give you money, you can spend it on hotels and private planes and all sorts of glamorous things,” Potter said. “Part of his point was that it doesn’t actually have to be spent on politics.”
Jordan Rubio, a sophomore journalism major at Texas Christian University, said he thought Colbert’s recent decision to transfer power of his super PAC to Stewart was a brilliant idea.
“I thought the entire act of him transferring power over showed how easy it was and how close people who run super PACs are with those who are running for president,” Rubio said. “It really showed how close that relationship is and in a way that a lot of people can understand.”
Joel Paddock, professor of political science at Missouri State University, said the power transfer showed how easily a former super PAC head turned candidate can benefit from a PAC.
“Giving Jon Stewart control of his super PAC so he can run for president, but still benefit from the super PAC, effectively satirizes the hypocrisy of the campaign finance system where super PACs supposedly cannot coordinate with candidates they are supporting,” Paddock said.
“Yes, they are not supposed to coordinate their expenditures, but what does this really mean? A number of candidates have former political and business associates running super PACs that — at least theoretically — are not coordinating their activities with the candidate,” Paddock said. “This is what makes Colbert’s satire of this so effective.”
Super PACs can raise money in “unlimited amounts from corporations, labor unions, individuals and other sources,” said Paddock, but the funds are not really the issue.
“The big issue is not so much the amount of money spent, but what big contributors want — in terms of public policy benefits — in exchange for these huge contributions,” he said.
Rubio said he disagreed with corporations and others having the ability to use unlimited amounts of funds to campaign for a particular candidate.
“Even though all of our votes count the same, some can influence the election more through the purchasing of airtime and advertisements,” he said. “I don’t have millions of dollars to go spend campaigning for a certain candidate. But somebody, such as CEOs or labor unions, can so they have much more power than I do which is completely un-American.”
Potter said the reason he chose to go on The Colbert Report as a guest and become Colbert’s lawyer was to help educate viewers about the realities of super PACs.
“I think it is very helpful to the country in focusing attention on the super PACs and explaining them and getting people to think about the issues they create,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s why he’s doing it, but that’s why I’m doing it.”
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