It is not easy to make the complex world of campaign finance comprehensible, much less entertaining. One unanswered question in the current campaign finance world is whether Super PACs may feature candidates in their ads if they do so far enough out before the election. For background on the issue, see this post linking to this NYT report on Ben Nelson and this WaPo report on American Crossroads seeking to emulate and expand on the Nelson strategy. The American Crossroads request for an advisory opinion with the FEC is here.
Stephen Colbert took this issue on last night, with some help from Trevor Potter, and it was brilliant performance art. Not only did Colbert feature a segment explaining the issue. He followed it up with a segment with Trevor Potter explaining that Colbert’s Super PAC is submitting comments on the American Crossroads AO request, and an actual ad coordinated with presidential candidate Buddy Roemer (who not coincidentally has made campaign finance reform his signature issue).
I criticized Colbert for playing with fire with the “Rick Parry” issue, and maybe this is playing with fire too. But he’s done more to educate the general public about the troublesome nature of super PACs than anyone else in the media or academia.
Below the fold I’ve reprinted the Colbert comment on the American Crossroads AO.
The following is the official Comment submitted to the Federal Election Commission by Colbert Super PAC in support of American Crossroads.
Shawn Woodhead Werth
Secretary and Clerk
Federal Election Commission
999 E Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20463
Re: Comment on American Crossroads Advisory Opinion Request
Dear Secretary Werth:
Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow submits this letter as a formal comment on the Advisory Opinion Request submitted to the Federal Election Commission on October 12, 2011, and again in a revised version on October 28, 2011 by American Crossroads, an organization led by Republican political consultant and “Mr. November” in the 2012 “Hunks of the Bush Administration” calendar, Karl Rove.
Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow has much in common with American Crossroads. Both are registered “independent-expenditure-only” PACs (a.k.a. “Super PACs”) that may accept unlimited contributions from corporations, unions, individuals, and doomsday cults we one day hope to found. Both groups are separately affiliated with prominent 501©(4) organizations, Colbert Super PAC SHH and Crossroads GPS, and are strongly committed to doing what is legally possible in America. Both have top strategic thinkers at their core: American Crossroads has Karl Rove, and Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow has a ham loaf wearing wire rimmed glasses.
Because of this shared bond and heritage, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow has an interest in the Request by American Crossroads.
As we understand the American Crossroads Advisory opinion Request, the organization has plans to sponsor advertisements featuring Members of Congress up for re-election. As they wrote in their original Request,
“The purpose of these advertisements, while focused on current legislative and policy issues, would be to improve the public’s perception of the featured Member of Congress in advance of the 2012 campaign season.”
Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow could not concur more concurrently. These ads would simply improve public perception of candidates in advance of the campaign. The message is not, “Vote for this great guy,” it’s merely, “Hey voters! Look at this great guy!”
Clearly, these ads featuring candidates on behalf of candidates would not be candidate ads. As American Crossroads put it, in their original Request,
“While these advertisements would be fully coordinated with incumbent Members of Congress facing re-election in 2012, they would presumably not qualify as ‘coordinated communications,’.”
Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow agrees that “fully coordinated” ads shouldn’t be counted as “coordinated communications.” The candidate would merely be appearing as a paid spokesperson, who, coincidentally, is closely aligned with the candidate that he or she also is.
For example, an ad in which the Kool Aid man decries our nation-wide childhood thirst problem would not necessarily be an ad for Kool Aid brand juice drink. That being said, would a tall glass of Kool-Aid solve that thirst problem? To quote one expert: “Oh, yeaaahhhh!”
Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow wholly endorses American Crossroads’ Request. We hope the Commission is able to begin with the Supreme Court’s definition of Non-Coordinated as “expenditures … made totally independently of the candidate and his campaign” in Buckley v. Valeo, and end up with a ruling that allows outside groups to produce ads with the candidate’s cooperation, themes, and message. That will prove to our nation’s critics that America is a country that still makes something: strained rationalizations.
Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow believes that Super PACs can and should coordinate with candidates in every sense of that word—except in the legal or biblical sense. In fact, pending the outcome of American Crossroads’ Request, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow plans to coordinate a non-“coordinated” ad with presidential novelty candidate Buddy Roemer. A rough example of which can be found here: www.colbertsuperpac.com/undaunted-non-coordination.
It should be clear that there was no collusion with Governor Roemer, as he vehemently opposes and passionately questions the legality of the ad that he agreed to appear in.
If the Commission sees fit to grant these reasonable requests, Americans for a Better Tomorrow will continue to fulfill our promise to never give you up, or let you down, as detailed in our mission statement here:
Accordingly, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow respectfully requests the Commission’s timely consideration of American Crossroads’ Advisory Opinion Request.
Super Sincerely Yours,
President & Maître D’
Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Inc.
Chief Strategist & Lunchmeat
Americans for A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Inc.
PS – If the commission does not see fit to grant this request fully, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow would like to offer a compromise. To avoid the appearance of collusion, the F.E.C. could rule that candidates can appear in Super PAC ads only against their will. They’d have to be kidnapped, blindfolded, and thrown in a van before being forced to read a statement supporting their goals and then returned to their fundraisers in time for dessert.
cc:Office of the General Counsel