A good laugh at the expense of a politician is nothing new. Comedians have been mining the foibles of our elected leaders for material since the very first days of our republic. And while most of our political humor relies on the often sizable gap between the words and deeds of our elected officials, occasionally it’s the political system itself that can give us a chuckle.
Recently, Stephen Colbert has sent up our campaign finance system for a good laugh. On his Comedy Central television program he has a long running bit about election funding that examines the utterly incredible state of affairs since the unpopular Citizens United v FEC Supreme Court opinion in 2010.
He has gone so far as to hire noted former Federal Election Commission chairman Trevor Potter as his personal election lawyer. Mr. Potter helped Colbert create a “super PAC” that he can use to raise and spend unlimited funds in federal elections. Colbert has gone on to highlight the lunacy of our campaign finance system by pulling stunts like:
- trying to purchase the naming rights to the South Carolina primary election;
- running ads to write-in Rick Parry (with an ‘A’, not an ‘E,’ to confound the results) in the Iowa straw poll; and
- support his ironic bid for ‘The President of the United States and South Carolina’.
Colbert insists that he isn’t trying to shape policy. His goal is just to get some laughs. But the consequences of his actions are very real. Comedy Central’s parent company, Viacom, has spent a small fortune on lawyers to ensure that this stunt doesn’t land them in hot water.
Who knows how this will play out? Colbert has taken a subject that can make even the most hardcore policy wonks roll their eyes and made it entertaining. By participating in the campaign system in a very real and tangible way (his super PAC is registered and accepting serious donations) his absurd antics highlight the need to reform a system that is, well, laughable.