I originally buried this amusing nugget in an update to another post, but greatness has a way transcending obstances and forcing the world to take notice. In this case, the glittering jewel of greatness is an unintentionally hilarious, totally authentic press statement put out by Newt Gingrich's campaign in response to the conservative feeding frenzy over Newt's ill-conceived Meet the Press comments. It almost reads like satire. Indeed, its verbiage is so florid and dramatic that it has become legendary, worming its way from the Beltway zeitgeist into mainstream comedy. Emmy Award winner John Lithgow made a cameo appearance on last night's Colbert Report to lend his voice to Team Newt's now infamous words. It is hysterical:
Although the host, his audience, and everyone else got a good chuckle out of this, I suspect Colbert isn't nearly as bemused by his decidedly unfunny recent run-in with federal election laws. It turns out byzantine restrictions and regulations of political speech isn't a laughing matter:
Comedy Central funnyman Stephen Colbert, like most of his friends and allies on the left, thinks that last year's Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC is, literally, ridiculous. To make his case that the ruling invites "unlimited corporate money" to dominate politics, Mr. Colbert decided to set up a political action committee (PAC) of his own. So far, though, the joke's been on him.
The hilarity began last month, when Mr. Colbert began to have difficulty setting up his PAC, which is a group that can raise money to run political ads or make contributions to candidates. So he called in Trevor Potter, a former Federal Elections Commission (FEC) chairman who is now a high-powered Washington lawyer.
Mr. Potter delivered some unfunny news: Mr. Colbert couldn't set up his PAC because his show airs on Comedy Central, which is owned by Viacom, and corporations like Viacom cannot make contributions to PACs that give money to candidates. As Mr. Potter pointed out, Mr. Colbert's on-air discussions of the candidates he supports might count as an illegal "in-kind" contribution from Viacom to Mr. Colbert's PAC.
Of course, there's nothing new about the argument Mr. Colbert's lawyers are making to the FEC. Media companies' exemption from campaign-finance laws has existed for decades. That was part of the Supreme Court's point in Citizens United: Media corporations are allowed to spend lots of money on campaign speech, so why not other corporations?
Whether Mr. Colbert understands that he has made the Supreme Court's point is anyone's guess. But there's nothing funny about what he has had to go through to set up a PAC, because real people who want to speak out during elections face these confounding laws all the time. And as his attempt at humor ironically demonstrates, the laws remain byzantine and often impossible to navigate, even after Citizens United.