Attack ads, largely funded by super PACs definitely not coordinating with various candidates, have certainly made an impact this election cycle. In Iowa, Newt Gingrich's brief rise to front-runner was stymied by a flood of negative ads paid for by super PACs definitely not coordinating with Mitt Romney.
In South Carolina, Romney is tasting his own medicine as a super PAC definitely not coordinating with Newt Gingrich released a 30 minute "documentary" about Romney's role at Bain Capital. The 30 minute ad paints Romney's tenure at Bain as pirate capitalism and Romney himself as a heartless corporate raider, callously killing off jobs to turn a profit. It may as well have been made by Michael Moore.
Colbert's stunt is designed to underscore the problems with these ads and the super PACs funding them, and to point out how the controversial Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, is undermining democracy.
In a 5-4 decision in January of 2010, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional campaign finance regulations which restricted corporations and unions from using funds from their general treasuries in elections, striking down previous court decisions on the matter. This was met with a huge public outcry, especially on the left. Despite the Court's decision having been made on First Amendment grounds, many liberals, upset by disproportionate corporate influence over the political process, worried that the decision would further entrench the power of corporations in American democracy.
Colbert's satirical super PAC, however, far from effectively satirizing Citizens United, illustrates why this concern is misguided.
Prior to the 2010 decision, one industry already had the ability to dip into its bottomless war chest to influence electioneering. The big media companies, and their parent corporations like GE, have been historically excluded from campaign finance laws like McCain-Feingold. This exclusion was understandable: restricting the freedom of the press is obviously unconstitutional on free speech grounds.
But the media has enormous power over the political process. Colbert's nightly fake news show, for instance, has done a great deal more to influence American politics than anything his super PAC has achieved. Indeed, the only reason we know about the super PAC -- the only reason it exists in the first place -- is thanks to Colbert's media celebrity.
Viacom, Comedy Central's parent company, also owns MTV, Nickelodeon, and Paramount. Like the other big media organizations -- Fox News, MSNBC, ABC, CNN, and so forth -- Viacom is unrestricted in its political speech. So is Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp. owns Fox and many other media organizations.
There is little doubt that corporations play a big role in American politics. But the true corporate kingmakers are the mass media outlets that decide what news is fit to print, which candidates are "serious" and which issues are important enough to cover. Citizens United doesn't change this so much as it levels the playing field.