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Colbert Is Campaign Finance Scofflaw, and So Can You:

Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" has announced he is running for President. Even though it one grand exercise in performance satire, could his campaign still be subject to the campaign finance laws? Specifically, does the continued production and airing of his show by Comedy Central run afoul of campaign finance restrictions? Alison Hayward investigates.

UPDATE: Rick Hasen adds his thoughts at the Election Law Blog.

Anon1234:
He hasn't said he is running (I suspect to avoid the campaign finance laws). He is pulling a Fred Thompson and has said he is considering running.
10.25.2007 11:45am
JosephSlater (mail):
I believe he has said he is running -- but only in South Carolina.
10.25.2007 11:49am
DJR:
You must have only seen the Daily Show where he said he's considering running, as opposed to the subsequent Colbert Report, in which he said that after considering the matter for 15 minutes, he is running for President. The balloons dropping and blinking "I'M DOING IT" were pretty unambiguous, actually.
10.25.2007 11:50am
JosephSlater (mail):
Plus the interview with Tim Russert, worth watching on YouTube in part for the moment when Russert pulls out a "Bert" (Sesame Street) doll and challenges Colbert on the pronounciation of his name.
10.25.2007 12:01pm
e:
Pretty unambiguous other than the context of a comedy show and pretty obvious distinction between character Colbert and actual person Colbert...
10.25.2007 12:04pm
JosephSlater (mail):
e:

Well yeah, there's that. But the character has clearly said that the character is running. And to quote that character, talking to Bill O'Reilly, "If you're just an act, then what am I?"
10.25.2007 12:08pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Colbert's running on both the Democratic and Republican tickets -- doesn't that account for some of the equal time provisions?
10.25.2007 12:09pm
Zathras (mail):
If it's Stephen the character that is running and not Stephen the person, is the character a citizen (or even a person)? If so, is the character 35 years old, so that he (it?) may qualify for the Presidency?
10.25.2007 12:15pm
JBL:
There is legitimate speculation about how serious he is and whether he should qualify, but acid test is whether he is likely to get a significant number of votes. My guess is that he will.
10.25.2007 12:45pm
JonC:
Does anyone else find it fairly absurd that our campaign finance regulatory regime even forces us to ask this question?
10.25.2007 12:59pm
Richard S (mail):
I suspect most of us find this absurd, but such is the law nowadays.

A related questions. If Bloomberg runs, what would be the implicaitons for Bloomberg news?
10.25.2007 1:31pm
Constitutional Crisis (mail):

If it's Stephen the character that is running and not Stephen the person, is the character a citizen (or even a person)? If so, is the character 35 years old, so that he (it?) may qualify for the Presidency?

And if he won, would he have to govern from his gut? Or could he actually consider issues rationally?
10.25.2007 1:39pm
Malibu Drew (mail):
Jon C,

Agreed. But I think that's the implied point of J. Adler's post.

Drew
10.25.2007 1:42pm
Kelvin McCabe:
I think Colbert will get more than a few votes - his claimed desire is to get ONE delagate at the national nominating convention. If he does so, it will be a victory for him. He is also using this as a brilliant marketing strategy to sell his book with the disjointed title. "I Am America (And So Can You!)"

A fake newscaster entering a real political primary as the fake newscaster persona to sell real books to boost his chance to get real votes for the fake candidate. Hmmm..this last part actually sounds kinda familiar.
10.25.2007 2:03pm
Thales (mail) (www):
"If it's Stephen the character that is running and not Stephen the person, is the character a citizen (or even a person)? If so, is the character 35 years old, so that he (it?) may qualify for the Presidency?"

More to the point, even if of age, can the character even be a natural "born" (as opposed to written) citizen? Clearly the time has come to end this discrimination against fictional right cable news hosts, as well as certain Canadian and Austrian state governors.
10.25.2007 2:32pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
What I want to know is whether he gets to sit in on both the Republican and Democratic debates.
10.25.2007 2:40pm
baclaw (mail):
Thank god we have enough people in this country with both the knowledge necessary to carefully look into these weighty issues and the time necessary to solving these problems. It makes me proud to be an American. Thanks Stephen! :)
10.25.2007 3:27pm
fishbane (mail):
A fake newscaster entering a real political primary as the fake newscaster persona to sell real books to boost his chance to get real votes for the fake candidate. Hmmm..this last part actually sounds kinda familiar.

And people say postmodernism is dead.
10.25.2007 3:29pm
Antinome (www):
Colbert did a segment last week (rebroadcast last night and today presumably) where he addressed the campaign finance issues, including that his campaign would be sponsored by Doritos, oh wait that would be illegal, his coverage of his own campaign is sponsored by Doritos. The segment also talked about what his lawyers told him he could or could not do including at one point drawing a line down the middle of the screen. Whether the "legal advice" bore any relationship with reality I dont know, but it seems relevant to the discussion, lol.
10.25.2007 3:49pm
KenB (mail):
It would be a shame for Byzantine laws to keep from us people such as Stephen Colbert and Pat Paulsen. On the other hand, how to distinguish them from people such as Ross Perot and Harold Stassen?
10.25.2007 4:06pm
LecturerRich (mail):
re: KenB

Pat Paulson looked more alive than Ross Perot and Harold Stassen combined
10.25.2007 4:18pm
Gary McGath (www):
My recollection is that Paulsen had to withdraw his "candidacy" in order to avoid having restrictions placed on his TV appearances. The issue back then was the so-called Fairness Doctrine.
10.25.2007 4:35pm
Zathras (mail):
Apparently, in a simulated 3-way general election, Colbert is polling at the 12-13 percent level.
10.25.2007 4:45pm
Fred Jones:
Antinome is right: Wiley Rein has been advising Viacom on the election law issues involved with this "campaign," and the memo that Colbert flashed on camera last week was genuine.
10.25.2007 5:25pm
Davebo (mail):

does the continued production and airing of his show by Comedy Central run afoul of campaign finance restrictions?


No, because his show is on cable. For the same reasons TNT can continue to run Law and Order episodes with Fred Thompson I'd guess.
10.25.2007 6:35pm
Javert:
If he runs as character and person, does he get to double the campaign finance limits? Similarly, doesn't he (they? it?) get to halve the amount of the equal time provision?
10.25.2007 7:34pm
KeithK (mail):
No, because his show is on cable. For the same reasons TNT can continue to run Law and Order episodes with Fred Thompson I'd guess.

Huh? There's a cable TV exemption to campaign finance laws? I bet Hillary and Rudy will be happy to learn that.

I think you're thinking of FCC regulation such as the Fairness Doctrine. The Cable/broadcast distinction would matter there.
10.25.2007 8:07pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Syd asks

What I want to know is whether he gets to sit in on both the Republican and Democratic debates.

Hopefully
10.25.2007 10:19pm
Ben P (mail):

Colbert did a segment last week (rebroadcast last night and today presumably) where he addressed the campaign finance issues, including that his campaign would be sponsored by Doritos, oh wait that would be illegal, his coverage of his own campaign is sponsored by Doritos. The segment also talked about what his lawyers told him he could or could not do including at one point drawing a line down the middle of the screen.


The segment was brilliant, and it does bear a certain resemblance to the law. At least, in that what he quoted the "lawyers" as saying was correct. He then spun it into almost certainly being illegal again, but it was a good commentary on candidates accepting money from interest groups/ other people with agendas, and at the same time not being involved with those causes.
10.26.2007 9:42am
abb3w:
Zathras: If it's Stephen the character that is running and not Stephen the person, is the character a citizen (or even a person)? If so, is the character 35 years old, so that he (it?) may qualify for the Presidency?

Probably not an issue. Consider Michigan, which elected a WWF wrestler's persona as governor.
10.26.2007 1:27pm
THJC (mail):
I actually like Colbert's idea of a corporate-sponsored candidacy. Maybe if it were legalised candidates wouldn't have to spend half their time fundraising and we could know up front who is behind them.
It might be fun to see them getting out of campaign planes and buses emblazoned with corporate logos like NASCAR racers.
10.28.2007 2:52am
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
I think the more important question is not whether or not he's violating campaign finance law, but whether or not the FEC will attempt to prosecute him.

Even if Colbert is violating the laws, they're likely to turn a blind eye in order to avoid looking like fools by allowing themselves to be drawn into this publicity stunt.
10.28.2007 4:37pm