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Media Politics

Is Stephen Colbert Going Too Far?

Late Update: Like it or not, Stephen Colbert has scored a victory and gotten his SuperPAC.

Talking Points Memo ( @tpmmedia @joshtpm ) has a new article up about the antics of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. For the last few years, Colbert has been insinuating himself into national politics, threatening to run for president, to hilarious effect. He’s been doing an able job of making campaign finance law seem like the bag of shit that it actually is, but now some reformers are worried that his current tactics are setting a dangerous precedent:

Ultimately, if they follow the suggestions of their staff, the FEC seems set to let the Colbert Super PAC go forward one way or another… That’s a move that has campaign finance reformers worried… “This would carve out a gaping loophole in campaign finance laws, allowing any company involved in media to foot, in secret and without limit, the electioneering expenses of political committees,” Public Citizen’s government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman said in a statement.

I can certainly sympathize with those trying to reform our labyrinthine and ultimately ineffectual campaign finance laws. And watching the show, I’ve had the same sick feeling that the joke maybe is going to far.

But the problem isn’t that Stephen is taking the joke too far, but that the joke is possible at all. If he can – for comedy’s sake – twist the laws of campaigns in ways that forces the FEC to grant him a SuperPAC, then someone else can and probably already is trying to do so for political and financial gain. Like Andy Kaufman before him, Colbert isn’t causing things to happen, he’s causing things to happen in public.

The question is: can Colbert turn the corner on this prank and use it to affect some real change? Does he want to? I guess we’ll have to watch and see what happens next.

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A Word on Obama and Campaign Finance

Unfortunately, it was during the chaos of my website meltdown that Barack Obama announced that he would not be taking the public campaign financing and run on his own donated money.  The media has been making a big deal of this, and of course, so has John McCain.  Ideologically, its a bit of a disappointment to see Obama or any politician not take public financing.

But those of us with a brain knew months ago that Obama wouldn’t be taking the public money, so while it might not seem like a great thing for those of us who support Clean Money, it’s not the huge surprise the media would like to believe it is.  It’s also just not the most interesting issue for many voters, which is why no one on the Democratic side has bothered hitting John McCain on his own public financing problems – it’s all just too esoteric.

But what is amusing is to watch the media, which has sat idly by while Republicans have out-raised Democrats in every single contest from President to Podunk Dog Catcher, suddenly find itself so concerned with the fairness of campaign finance when the situation is reversed.  It’s even more amusing to hear Republicans who actively work against Clean Money whenever it comes up suddenly clutching the pearls because Obama didn’t take the taxpayer dollars.

And all of this to be entirely ignored by the public.  No one really cares, it’s just Republicans flailing.

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McCain Rubbing Lobbiest Buddies the Wrong Way

John McCain’s lobbyist purge has caused some hurt feelings among those people in the lobbying business, especially those who stayed with him at the NoTell Motels in February when we were all discussing a Mitt Romney candidacy. Not only are they angered by the fact that they’ve been thrown under the bus to shore up McCain’s “reformer” cred in the face of a likely Obama campaign, but apparently, they’re very insulted by the notion that they’re all bad guys.

Yeah, you read that right. I mean, I know for sure that not everybody who lobbies the government is a bad guy – I’ve done a bit of lobbying for CMCE, myself – but anyone who identifies themselves a professional lobbyist should probably be prepared for the criticism. This sentence is, for me, the take away sentence gigglefest of the whole article:

Lobbyists: This is our thanks? – Jeanne Cummings – Politico.com

“The McCain folks seem confused. They’ve created an issue for Obama, and it strikes me as mindless politics to start eating your own like this. Not every lobbyist is Jack Abramoff,” said one Republican operative who requested anonymity to speak frankly.

We’re not all bad guys, but just to be safe, put this on deep background, please.

On a more serious note, you do have to wonder how a bus load of lobbyists on the McCain Straight Talk Express could not have been prepared for this eventuality. How could this not have come up in discussion, or did it get followed up by some kind of promise McCain has reneged on?