Commentary: Colbert's super PAC shows political spending is so sad it's funny

Comedians Stephen Colbert (left) and Jon Stewart perform at the Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
Comedians Stephen Colbert (left) and Jon Stewart perform at the Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

Stephen Colbert is making a mockery of political spending in the 2012 election. This seems to be the only sensible response. Mocking is what's called for.

Colbert, who grew up in Charleston, announced on his show the other night that he's forming an exploratory committee to run for - as he put it - "president of the United States of South Carolina."

It's way too late to get on the ballot for the S.C. Republican primary Saturday. But winning, for Colbert, is not the point. The point is money.

Colbert created a super PAC (political action committee) for himself last year. Super PACs flowered from the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that - as Mitt Romney put it - corporations are people, at least where political donations are concerned. Regular PACs have restrictions on how much they can raise and spend. Super PACs don't. It's a way for corporations, unions and random rich folks to spend as much as they want on a campaign.

Colbert had one problem. You can't run a super PAC and run for president at the same time. The rule is that the super PAC can't "coordinate" with a candidate.

So Colbert, on his Comedy Central show, brought out his buddy Jon Stewart. They signed the two-page document transferring the super PAC to Stewart. That's all it took. And now, Stewart can spend the super PAC money on ads praising Colbert or attacking the other candidates - as long as he doesn't "coordinate" with Colbert.

I believe this is where the Monty Python character goes "Wink-wink, nudge-nudge..."

How much money does Colbert's super PAC have? And who donated to it? He's not telling. And so far, he hasn't had to tell.

So here's how they do it on the noncomedian side. Sheldon Adelson, a Vegas billionaire and friend of Newt Gingrich, gave $5 million to the pro-Gingrich super PAC called Winning Our Future. (Which sounds like a Charlie Sheen T-shirt, but whatever.) Winning Our Future then bought a bunch of airtime in South Carolina to run clips from a film blasting Mitt Romney for killing jobs when he ran the private-equity firm Bain Capital. The fact-checking site PolitiFact has pointed out several falsehoods in the film. Gingrich has asked the super PAC (with which he has no connection, wink-wink, nudge-nudge) to back off. But the images of those laid-off workers are already burned into some voters' heads.

It's perfectly fine for Gingrich to go after Romney that way. It's perfectly fine for people to donate to campaigns. But it's silly to pretend that big-money donors are independent of the candidates they root for. And it's crazy to let corporations flood campaigns with money, when at least two major parts of a company - employees and shareholders - don't have a say in where the money goes.

I'm headed to South Carolina to cover the primary starting Wednesday. As you read, always remember this: Spending in politics is so sad it's funny. That's great news for Stephen Colbert. Not so much for the rest of us.

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