Quick, make a joke about the presidency.
Because comedian Stephen Colbert has taken the next step in his possibly fictional presidential campaign by handing over his Super PAC to fellow TV show host Jon Stewart on Thursday night.
It’s Colbert and Stewart, so presumably this is both funny and politically charged, but what exactly is a Super PAC and why does Colbert have to turn his over to Stewart?
And what point is Colbert trying to make anyway?
The PAC With Fewer Rules
Basically, a Super PAC is, for political candidates, the ultimate campaign contribution vehicle. This political campaign fundraising machine has no limit on the amount it can raise in individual donations or on how much the group may donate to a candidate’s cause.
Super PACs didn’t exist until 2010, when the Supreme Court approved a variation of the original campaign fundraising vehicle: PAC, which stands for Political Action Committee.
PACs were originally developed as a way for union members to pool their contributions to the campaigns of different candidates. They got popular when legislation banned individuals from making extravagant contributions directly to campaigns. Then the PACs became a way for donors to give carefully regulated funds to their favored candidates.
Individuals may donate only $5,000 per year to a PAC and PACs are limited to donating $5,000 to a candidate or $15,000 to a party, annually.
Hm … $5,000 donation limit vs. unlimited donations … $15,000 contribution vs. unlimited contribution … which type of PAC would you pick?
Why Colbert Had to Give Up His Super PAC
Essentially, Colbert created his Super PAC in order to show his viewers, and the public at large, one of the flaws of the American political system: that any individual, corporation or union can give an unlimited amount to a Super PAC, which in turn can contribute unlimited funds to promote or campaign against a candidate. This means that the very wealthiest individuals, corporations and unions could have an outsized advantage in influencing American politics as a whole.
Colbert’s ploy is working, in that his Super PAC has drawn attention to a system that before only caught the interest of those involved closely with politics.
When the Super PAC came into being, Colbert applied for his essentially to show that he could. He hasn’t disclosed how much money is in the PAC (when asked, he responded, “The fun thing about that is I don’t have to tell you.” Now, he has announced that he’ll be forming an exploratory committee for a possible run for President in South Carolina, and by law, he may no longer be affiliated with his PAC.
Colbert’s Super PAC, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” was renamed “The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC” and placed under Stewart’s control in order to satisfy the rule that candidates may not coordinate with the PACs that supply their funding.
The campaign for President may be an elaborate joke, but the money in his Super PAC is serious.
Image Credit: Flickr.com/MikeBrowne