Misulonas: Colbert ‘candidacy’ proves Super PACs are dangerous

Joseph Misulonas

Last Thursday, faux-conservative talk show host Stephen Colbert announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to decide whether or not to run for president.

This is not the first time the popular Comedy Central star has run for president. He unsuccessfully tried to run in the South Carolina primary in 2008, but he refused to pay the fee to get on the Republican ballot and was denied a spot on the Democratic ballot.

Colbert’s candidacy is not as strange as it may sound.

He would not be the only candidate providing comedic fodder, as Rick Perry’s many debate performances have shown. Also, a poll released by Public Policy Polling last week showed Colbert beating Jon Huntsman among South Carolina primary voters before Huntsman dropped out.

It should be mentioned that Colbert cannot get votes in the South Carolina primary. He missed the filing deadline to appear on the ballot, and there is no place to put write-in votes. But Stephen Colbert is not running to get votes.

Colbert is running to garner attention for his crusade against the Citizens United decision.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a decision made by the Supreme Court in 2010. The decision states that because corporations are legally people – as decided in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company (1886) – they have the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political activities. Campaign donations are considered political speech, which is protected by the First Amendment.

Citizens United is one of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history, and the ruling threatens our democracy.

If corporations are allowed to make unlimited donations to politicians, why would politicians need to be accountable to the people?

Ordinary citizens may still have to vote for them, but candidates can’t win elections without their corporate backers. Corporations can manipulate politicians into serving business interests and ignoring interests of the people.

And before I am hammered in the comments section for my anti-Capitalist views, labor unions and Hollywood studios (the lifeblood of the Democratic Party) would be able to take advantage of the same opportunities.

Campaign finance laws limit the amounts of money corporations and individuals can donate directly to candidates. But corporations can donate an unlimited amount of money to Super Political Action Committees.

Super PACs can accept unlimited donations from corporations and interest groups and can use that money to buy advertising supporting a candidate or attacking another, thereby washing the blood off the candidates’ hands.

Super PACs don’t have to disclose what they spend their money on and rarely have to disclose who their donors are. They are essentially unaccountable groups manipulating elections to favor their interests.

Colbert has been one of the most ardent attackers of the Citizens United decision, albeit satirically.

Last July, Colbert created his own Super PAC and has been exposing the ridiculousness of the decision. He tried putting a referendum on the South Carolina primary ballot which would have asked voters whether “Corporations are People” or are only “People” People?

When Colbert decided last Thursday to run for president, he had fellow Comedy Central host Jon Stewart on The Colbert Report to transfer control of the Super PAC.

Candidates and Super PACs are not allowed to coordinate with each other, but Colbert and Stewart have been appearing on each other’s shows, discussing strategy on how to operate the PAC and have broken no laws.

Stewart and Colbert are showing us how easy it is to work around Super PAC regulation. The catch in Colbert’s campaign is that everything he’s done is legal.

Stewart can sit right next to Colbert and tell him the Super PAC’s ad campaign, and as long as Colbert doesn’t explicitly acknowledge what he’s saying, it’s legal. It’s hilarious, until you realize that these are just two comedians.

Imagine if it was an actual candidate and an actual head of a Super PAC.

That’s frightening.

Colbert’s satirical crusade is one of the few movements against the Citizens United decision. The amount of influence given to America’s corporations was outrageous even before the Citizens United decision.

Super PACs are only the beginning. Corporations will find more direct ways to influence candidates and buy votes. The Citizens United decision legalized corporate bribery. It is the greatest threat to our democracy.

Colbert may not be able to get any votes, but hopefully his candidacy will convert more people against the Citizens United decision, or at the very least inform people about the realities of it.

If you want to take action now, sign the petition created by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), available at sanders.senate.gov.

Joseph Misulonas is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]