Stephen Colbert: The Ironic Leader of the Campaign Finance Reform Movement

Odd + Funny, Politics, U.S. News

January 21st, 2010: a day that will live in infamy: the day that the already-whimpering American democracy finally bled out and died.

Stephen Colbert / Image from Wikimedia

On this day, corporations were legally vindicated in their efforts to control the policy making of our nation. The Supreme Court vs. Citizens United ruling single-handedly undid years of cornerstone American regulation that prevented the unlimited contributions of for-profit and non-profit organizations to political campaigns.

As a result of the ruling, entities known as Political Action Committees (PACs) are able to market the political campaigns of any candidate with unlimited funds, and do so in transparency.

In defense of the ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy claimed: “No sufficient governmental interest justifies limits on the political speech of nonprofit or for-profit corporation.” Conversely, Justice John Paul Stevens—who voted against the measure—predicted early on that: “the ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.”

And now, as we approach the two year anniversary of the ruling, it is clear that The Supreme Court vs. Citizens United case has catalyzed a pivotal change in the political climate of the United States.

And not for the better.

Sadly, the implications of this case are still lost on much of the American public. However, a recent HuffPost article outlines the case of the man who has done the most to get people talking about the state of American campaign finance: “In an indication of the desperate state of campaign finance laws — and the mainstream media — that person is a comedian: Stephen Colbert, who plays a right-wing blowhard on the Comedy Central show ‘The Colbert Report.’”

Colbert takes advantage of dishonest politics’ oldest foe, satire. Indeed, Colbert is an icon of pop culture. This unique position has allowed him the freedom to point out some of the more poisonous aspects of American politics and: “bring the troubling issues surrounding campaign finance to the public’s attention more than either the reform community or traditional media.”

As a caricature of the new powers created by the Citizens United ruling, Stephen Colbert has taken it to the next step. He has formed his own PAC, the Colbert Super PAC, and transferred control of it to his friend and colleague Jon Stewart. In an unprecedented move, he then announced his candidacy for President of the United States… of South Carolina (his home state).

Even though the PAC carries Colbert’s name and holds money from corporate donors, it can legally get spent to support Colbert’s campaign because it is “independent” of Stephen Colbert himself.

Colbert’s extended metaphor is an undeniable representation of the face of the harsh realities of campaign finance in the United States. Hopefully his message will reach the ears of the American public at large, both on his television show and on the web. But once it does, will anyone do anything about it?

Cody Miller is a student of English, Education, and Peace and Conflict Studies at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.  Born in Whitehall Township (a suburb of Allentown, PA), he is an avid writer and activist, most closely affiliated with Students for Sensible Drug Policy; a student-run drug policy reform organization.  Cody resides in downtown West Chester, PA, and works as a writer while attending classes as a full-time student.

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