Watchdogs Say Stephen Colbert’s PAC Request Is No Joke, Urge FEC Not To Expand Media Exception

Two good government groups are urging the Federal Elections Commission to reject Stephen Colbert’s request for a “media exception” which would allow his employer Viacom to cover the costs of his “Super PAC” without having to disclose those expenses as in-kind contributions — including the group headed by the lawyer representing Colbert.Colbert’s request could have serous implications on campaign finance law and would “would permit the corporate media employer of these individuals to make unlimited, undisclosed contributions to their PACs under the guise of the ‘press exemption’,” Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 said in a statement. They mentioned that Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum all had PACs and are (or recently were) television hosts or commentators.

“Although we recognize that Mr. Colbert submitted his advisory opinion in the spirit of political comedy, an opinion by the FEC permitting all that Mr. Colbert requests would have a sweeping and damaging impact on disclosure laws and the public’s right to know about campaign finance activities,” Paul S. Ryan, FEC Program Director at the Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement.

“Many television show hosts who are serious politicians have PACs that could reap great financial benefit from the expansion of the scope of the ‘press exemption’ to cover the costs of independent expenditure ads made for their federal PACs and the payment of such PACs’ administrative expenses,” Ryan said.

Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said the press exemption “simply does not apply to allow a corporation like Viacom to secretly finance independent ads for Mr. Colbert’s Super PAC, nor does it allow Viacom to secretly pay for the administrative costs of the Colbert Super PAC.”

He said an advisory opinion from the FEC “would result in the Commission opening up a gaping loophole in the disclosure laws.”

The Campaign Legal Center is headed by Trevor Potter, who is representing Colbert in his FEC request. Potter recused himself and took no part in the center’s consideration of the Colbert filing.

Both groups say that the FEC’s test for applying the so-called press exemption is determining whether an entity is acting in a “legitimate press function.” Creating ads for “Colbert PAC,” and paying the administrative costs of a PAC as Colbert wants to do with Viacom’s money, “do not constitute legitimate press functions,” the groups said.

Read their filing with the FEC here.

Here’s video of Colbert speaking outside the FEC after he dropped off his advisory opinion request earlier this month: