The man who told Stephen Colbert how to set up his own super PAC told Bill Moyers this week that regardless of judicial intent, fundraising groups of that type are not independent of their candidates of choice.
“When the courts midwifed these things, they said, ‘They can’t corrupt because they’re totally independent of candidates and parties,’” former former Federal Election Commission chairperson Trevor Potter said, referring to the 2010 Citizens United verdict. “‘That’s why you can give them an unlimited amount, because you’re not buying access, the candidates may not like them, they’re wholly independent.’” Well that’s baloney. They’re not independent in any way.”
Instead, Potter said, because candidates are allowed to endorse them, super PACs have become “sort of shadow party committees.”
Last year, Potter advised Colbert, host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, on how to start his own super PAC, which he handed over in January to Daily Show host Jon Stewart while considering a presidential campaign. The “Definitely Not Collaborating With Stephen Colbert super PAC” would subsequently receive more than $1 million in donations and earn Colbert two Peabody Awards as he used the campaign to lampoon the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which found political spending constituted free speech.
“Money equals speech,” Colbert said in January. “Therefore the more money you have, the more you can speak. That just stands to reason. If corporations are people, corporation should be able to speak. That’s why I believe in super PACs.”
Moyers said he found Colbert’s antics funny, but that the whole super PAC process was “no laughing matter.” However, Potter told Moyers that what he called the escalating “arms race’ between super PACs for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama could ultimately lead to positive changes in fundraising laws.
“In a way, and I know this will sound a little odd, that’s not entirely a bad outcome for this election,” said Potter, who also served as Rep. John McCain’s (R-AZ) general counsel during the 2008 presidential campaign. “Because what — where we have been is that the Republicans have proven they have an enormous advantage of raising money — and I’m a Republican. But the party has essentially said, ‘We have such a tactical advantage, that we’re not going to change this system.’”
If Democratic groups raise enough money during this election, Potter said, both sides would then step back to review campaign contribution rules. Moyers’ interview with Potter, published Friday, can be seen below.