Stephen Colbert does have a knack for taking very complicated legal subjects and hours of staff discussions and research and distilling it into 4 ½ minutes of Q&A that captures the essence of the issue, and explains it in layman’s language in a humorous, captivating way. What every Supreme Court advocate wishes for!
On one Show a shell corporation we had registered with the State of Delaware as “Delaware Shell Corporation” was turned into the Stephen Colbert 501(c)(4) with a pro forma 15 second board meeting in front of the studio audience. Afterwards, I had a call from a law professor at a prominent West Coast law school who said she wanted to thank me. “I have been trying to find ways to explain the role of incorporator to my students—now I can just show them the Colbert Report.”
But it is NOT the role of the incorporator that causes millions of idealistic younger Americans— and seen-it-all older ones—to watch the Colbert Report’s coverage of campaign finance in this Presidential election year. Nor is it the riveting discussion of IRS filing procedures for Section 501(c)(4) organizations that won the Show a Peabody Award.
The Colbert Report coverage is so successful because it accurately describes a campaign finance world that seems too surreal to be true. A system that claims to require disclosure of money spent to elect or defeat candidates, but in fact provides so many ways around that requirement as to make disclosure optional; a system that says that “independent expenditures” cannot be limited as a matter of Constitutional law because they cannot corrupt because they are “totally independent” of candidates and parties—when the daily news reports about these supposedly “independent” groups show that candidates raise money for them, candidates’ former employees run them, and candidates’ polling and advertising vendors advise them. And the major donors to these “independent” groups are often also official fundraisers for the candidate. Other major donors have private meetings with the candidates, or travel with them on campaign trips!
Some of the other realities of modern campaign finance are just as bad. This year, for the first time since 1972, we have a Presidential election with no candidates financed by public funds in either the primary or the general elections. Instead of receiving grants from the U.S. Treasury to campaign, we see a race by both sides to raise a billion dollars each from private donors. They won’t make it, by the way, because so much of the money instead will be going into the SuperPACs and 501(c)(4)s and (c)(6)s allied with the parties and the candidates.