Comedian Stephen Colbert has gained attention for
his political satire on new campaign finance rules that were the result of the
landmark “Citizens United” U.S. Supreme Court decision. The comedian formed his
own super PAC which gave him the ability to raise unlimited funds from
undisclosed donors to run political ads, as long as there is no direct
coordination with a candidate. But when Colbert began to weigh his own run for
“President of the United States of South Carolina,” he turned over the committee
to Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who used the money to run satirical ads in
support of Colbert. Professor Frank Askin, founder of the Constitutional
Litigation Clinic at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, says the former Colbert
super PAC exposes the flaws in the Supreme Court ruling. Askin is a
Distinguished Professor of Law, Robert E. Knowlton Scholar,and a
member of the National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union since 1969.
Rutgers Today: Can you explain what a super PAC is and how the
“Citizens United” U.S. Supreme Court Decision made these committees possible?
Askin: A super Pac can take in all the money it wants. It
can take it in from whatever source it wants. Most of it is non-disclosed – you
don’t know where the money came from.
Super PACs are partly the result of Citizens United. There
was a post “Citizens United” case in the D.C. Court of Appeals that built on
it, but all these decisions put together allow these PACs to accept unlimited
amounts of money as long as they use it allegedly independently – uncoordinated
with candidates. But it is a joke. A candidate’s former campaign manager can run
the PAC, so he knows all about the campaign and its plans.
That is why Stephen Colbert can turn his PAC over to Jon
Stewart and Jon Stewart can do whatever he wants with it because he is allegedly
independent of Colbert. Colbert has done a good job exposing the ludicrousness
of the whole thing.
Rutgers Today: How are the rules different now, compared to
the campaign finance regulations that were in place during the 2008
long time, but they used to have all kinds of restrictions on them. The
decisions have basically taken the gloves off.
Askin: Political Action Committees have been around for a
“Citizens United” created the law that independent spending
by corporations and unions cannot be limited. It used to be that corporations
and unions could have a PAC, but the PACs could only raise money from share
holders or members, and donations were limited to $5,000 a piece. But now all
the rules have been set aside so they can collect unlimited money from anybody
as long as they are spending it independently and not doing it in coordination
with a candidate.
Rutgers Today: Are there any penalties for violating the new
campaign regulations? Is the system working the way the court intended?
Askin: The Supreme Court decision said the real answer was
disclosure: As long as everyone knows where the money is coming from that will
take care of everything. Congress could have passed rules, but the Republicans
filibustered it so we have unlimited spending and no disclosure.
Another problem is that the Federal Election Commission is
not enforcing anything. The FEC is split between three- Democrats and three-
Republicans, so there is gridlock. Committees can do whatever they want. No one
is ever going to go to jail over this stuff, believe me.
Rutgers Today: What did the creation of Colbert’s former
super Pac and the ads Jon Stewart ran in the South Carolina Primary to support
him, reveal about the reality of campaign finance?
Askin: The Colbert Super Pac shows that it is a farce – that
the gloves are off. Political people can pretty much raise as much money as they
want, and say what they want, and no one is going to stop them. It really is a
brilliant thing that Colbert did.
Media Contact: Andrea Alexander
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