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Stephen Colbert's faux presidential run has created an unlikely celebrity out of Trevor Potter—the meticulous yet amiable election lawyer guiding Colbert Nation through the thorny world of campaign super PACs.
Today's Chicago Tribune profiles the native Chicagoan, exploring his curious rise to Comedy Central fame. In Politico, the former Federal Election Commission chairman talks about improvising with Colbert on set. And if you've missed any of Potter's recent appearances on the Colbert Report, feel free to swing by his thoroughly-updated Facebook fan page where links abound and efforts to update his Wikipedia page are spearheaded.
In the Tribune, Potter is the buttoned-down Republican lawyer no one expected to be cracking wise on late-night cable. "Potter's pedigree would not suggest such a wacky pop culture role," writes Tribune staffer Katherine Skiba. "He attended the Latin School of Chicago, earned a Harvard University degree in 1978 and graduated from the University of Virginia Law School in 1982":
"It's not what I'm used to in Washington," Potter said, chuckling.
Potter said Colbert met him through an attorney who had appeared on the program. "There is that cool factor to it, which is all a big surprise to me," said Potter, now a presence on YouTube. "I did not appreciate the level of following (Colbert) has and the intensity until I got in it."
The Tribune says the Caplin & Drysdale attorney has advised Republican presidential candidates including George H.W. Bush and John McCain, and enjoys horticulture and fox hunting. It appears he wasn't always a Republican. According to his friend Jan Baran, he was a page at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Explaining the on-set dynamic of The Colbert Report
, Potter tells Politico's Keach Hagey
he typically has to wing it due to the improvisational nature of the show.
[Potter] doesn’t have influence over the script because for his segments, there often isn’t one.
“He’s a big believer in improvisation, and almost always, we will go into it without my knowing what the questions are going to be,” he said, explaining that Colbert told him he wants to bring the audience with him in real time as he asks questions about the brave new world of superPACs.
Not all of the show is scripted, however, and in scenes like this week's super PAC transfer from Colbert to Jon Stewart
, Potter is getting increasingly comfortable hamming it up on stage, like in this scene when he says the "magic words" transferring power of the super PAC to Stewart.
"Colbert Super PAC transfer, activate!" intoned Potter (3:30 mark).
While Potter may be a Republican, he's clearly left to his party when it comes to campaign finance reform. “It’s no secret that I thought the Supreme Court made a serious mistake in Citizens United for lots of reasons,” he told Politico. “It also has not worked out the way the court majority thought it was going to work out. We don’t have the disclosure that Justice Kennedy was confident we would. We very clearly have a lot more coordination going on between candidates and super PACs than the court thought was going to go on when they talked about expenditures.”
In a previous interview with Open Secrets
in August, Potter, who helped craft the McCain-Feingold legislation, went even further to oppose his party's campaign finance positions. Describing how the FEC has devolved over the years, he spoke to how gridlock occurs in the commission, he said, "What's changed is that you now have three [Republican] commissioners who are basically deregulators and don't believe in the law they're there to enforce... And then you have three Democrats who are in an awkward position. They, I think, believe more in the law, but they're not going to go out there and enforce it only against Democrats. So you end up with a commission that has this often 3-3 deadlock, even to proceed to look at something."
In any event, Potter's status as celebrity lawyer is clearly unique. As his longtime associate Jan Baran told the Tribune. "How often does a lawyer get to have some celebrity status that doesn't involve a criminal client?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.