Over the last four years Stephen Colbert has transitioned from a comedian who has some opinions on politics to a political activist who's hilarious. When he attempted a presidential campaign in 2008, Colbert's jokes were about funny old traditions used to pick modern leaders -- he tried to be nominated as a "favorite son," a 19th-century technique for strengthening a region's negotiating power, promised to crush rival state Georgia, and adopted the slogan was "First to secede, first to succeed." When he couldn't get on either party's ballot, he pushed for viewers to vote by donating to charities. This time his jokes are about buying the election, and he's making them by trying to buy the election.
Political action committee
Colbert's first move was to create his super political action committee, which is allowed to spend unlimited money supporting candidates thanks to the the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. The Federal Election committee approved Colbert's super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, in June, and said it was legal for Colbert to use his show to raise money, the Associated Press reports. But Colbert hasn't been so nice to the commission in return. He's repeatedly mocked Karl Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads, for its assertion that its ads would be "fully coordinated" with candidates but weren't "coordinated communications." Colbert fans flooded the FEC with comments, making enough trouble that, as the Huffington Post's Paul Blumenthal reported this month, "Donald McGahn, a conservative voice on the commission, asked Crossroads lawyer Thomas Josefiak to explain the meaning of 'fully coordinated,' since 'the Colbert Nation has been released.'"
Throwing the Ames, Iowa straw poll
Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow aired ads in Iowa urging Republican voters in the Ames straw poll to vote for Rick Parry instead of candidate Rick Perry, just to prove that its independent expenditures really, definitely, for sure weren't coordinated with the Perry campaign. Noting all the other super PACs airing ads in the state, the ad said, "But what about our unlimited super PAC money? We want you to vote for Rick Perry, too. But not their Rick Perry, our Rick Parry."
Tried to buy "naming rights" to the South Carolina primary
Colbert offered the South Carolina Republican Party more than $100,000 to name their January 21 primary “The Colbert Nation Super PAC Presidential Primary," the Associated Press reports. “The party respectfully declined," its executive director Matt Moore said. A local Democratic consultant told The State, “I never thought I’d see the day that [the party] actually asked a comedian to make fun of them."
Naming rights to a Republican debate
Colbert tried to co-sponsor a primary debate in Myrtle Beach, The State's Gina Smith reports, but Fox News had exclusive rights to it. Besides, Moore told Smith, “We were concerned about the sanctity of the primary election and hurting our primary candidates.”
Ballot measure on corporate personhood
When those sponsorship efforts didn't pan out, Colbert tried to see how much money it would take to throw the state Republican party off message. He negotiated with the party to get the ballot question at right on the primary ballot, and talks went far enough that it was printed on the sample ballot. Question 4 would ask voters to declare whether corporations are people -- as the Supreme Court has stated for more than 100 years, and Mitt Romney told Iowans this summer -- or whether just people are people. "We weren't trying to embarrass Mitt Romney," party executive director Matt Moore told Yahoo's Holly Bailey. "It was a question proposed by Stephen Colbert, who was a potential donor to the party, and it didn't work out. It won't appear on the ballot." A state judge said such a referendum wasn't allowed, and Republicans didn't pursue it further, but the question showed up on the sample ballot anyway. But Colbert appealed to Democrats "as a last resort." The New York Times' Charles McGrath reports that Democratic party chair Richard Harpootlian has filed a petition seeking for a re-hearing.
Hosting his own Republican debate
After fake presidential candidate, fake billionaire and shameless self-promoter Donald Trump announced he'd host a primary debate -- and actual candidates said they'd go -- Colbert announced he'd host is own. On Tuesday he said that in January he'll host the "Stephen Colbert's South Carolina Serious, Classy Republican Debate" on Animal Planet, and all Republican candidates -- plus Herman Cain -- are invited to attend. Colbert emailed his super PAC list saying, "It's going to be a classy affair," The Hollywood Reporter noted. Perhaps he'll try to use campaign donations as an enticement for candidates to attend.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.