With several prospective 2012 Republican presidential candidates quietly prepping for possible White House bids, it was perhaps only a matter of time before Stephen Colbert began teasing his own “candidacy.”
The Comedy Central faux-conservative news commentator – whose satirical 2008 presidential campaign culminated in a rejected effort to win a spot on the South Carolina primary ballot, and also at times raised serious federal election campaign law questions – officially floated his first trial balloon of the 2012 cycle Wednesday night, asserting his potential campaign prospects were buoyed by last week’s Supreme Court decision striking down corporate spending restrictions.
“If I run in 2012 – no promises – I am going to leave my competition in the dust,” he said to robust applause on his “Colbert Report” television show. “The nacho cheese dust.”
The latter was a reference to his 2008 effort, which he promoted often on his popular show in late 2007 as “the hail to the cheese Stephen Colbert Nacho Cheese Doritos 2008 presidential campaign."
While the segments, heavy on the over-the-top bloviation that has made Colbert a pop culture phenomenon, were clearly a part of his shtick, they nonetheless raised some serious legal issues revolving around federal election law prohibitions corporate campaign contributions.
In fact, Comedy Central consulted a top Washington election law firm and Colbert announced that – based on the firm’s advice – he was launching a new campaign website rather than one linked to the network to post a downloadable petition seeking signatures to get on the South Carolina Democratic ballot.
The potential problems were not so much the Doritos “sponsorship” – though that too might have raised issues had Colbert gotten on the South Carolina ballot – but rather that Comedy Central was spending its corporate funds promoting his “campaign” by allowing him to hype it on his show.
On Wednesday, though, Colbert sniffed “now it turns out by having corporate sponsorship for my campaign, I was violating ‘federal election law,’” and he asserted he wouldn’t be similarly restrained in a possible 2012 campaign thanks to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision last week reversing decades of law banning corporations and unions from airing ads supporting or opposing candidates.
Colbert’s reading of the decision was a bit off, however, since the court only allowed corporations and unions to air ads independently supporting or opposing a candidate, but neither allowed them to contribute directly to the candidate, nor to pay for ads that are coordinated with the campaign.
Legal nuances aside, Colbert said “I can't wait to see the new corporate campaign ads” and asserted “every campaign ad for every congressman can now be paid for by that guy from the Dos Equis ads,” as producers flashed a photo on screen of the beer pitchman billed as “The most interesting man in the world.”
And Colbert predicted “when historians look back at the coming corporate sponsi-garchy, they'll start with my 2008 presidential campaign,” proclaiming himself “the Rosa Parks of riding in the back of a corporate jet.”