FEC Upholds Disclosure Rules In Colbert Opinion; Opinion in Line with Legal Center's Comments


At an open meeting packed with cameras, campaign finance advocates and fans of The Colbert Report, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) denied a request by comedian Stephen Colbert to extend the so-called "press exemption" to allow Viacom corporation to secretly subsidize his proposed Colbert Super PAC.  By a vote of 5-1, the Commissioners adopted an advisory opinion that finds that Viacom corporation, the media entity which owns and produces Mr. Colbert's television show, is entitled to the press exemption only insofar as Viacom produces or otherwise supports reporting and commentary on Colbert Super PAC during the Colbert Show. The opinion follows the course of action recommended by the Legal Center's comments filed with the FEC in the proceeding.

"We are pleased that the Commission has adopted a limited, reasonable understanding of the press exemption and refused to open up another loophole in our campaign finance laws,” said Tara Malloy, Legal Center Associate Counsel.  “The FEC's advisory opinion will give Mr. Colbert the freedom to engage in legitimate political commentary and comedy with the support of Viacom, but will also ensure that the public is informed about the corporate money his PAC receives.  Today's decision is a victory for disclosure.””

The Legal Center, along with Democracy 21, urged the Commissioners to refrain from unduly expanding the press exemption in comments filed with the FEC on May 27, 2011.  The Legal Center asked the FEC to make clear that neither (1) Viacom's costs associated with producing political ads for Colbert Super PAC to be aired as paid advertisements on other shows and networks, nor (2) Viacom's payment of the PAC's administrative costs would fall within the press exemption.  Because these proposed payments do not qualify for the press exemption, they must be reported by Colbert PAC as in-kind contributions from Viacom in its regular reporting to the FEC.  The advisory opinion issued today ensures that Viacom's support for these activities is disclosed to the American public.

"The impact of today's opinion by the FEC goes beyond Mr. Colbert and his well-known satirical show, and ensures that the numerous television show hosts and commentators who are serious politicians cannot exploit the press exemption.  Sarah Palin has Sarah PAC, Mike Huckabee has Huck PAC, and both are television hosts and commentators,””Ms. Malloy continued.  “Today the FEC made it clear that politician-commentators cannot have their corporate media employers make unlimited, undisclosed contributions to their PACs under the guise of the press exemption.’ But the Legal Center will be monitoring the Commission's enforcement of its guidelines in this area, as the frenzy of political activity by media-connected individuals and PACs like Mr. Colbert will no doubt heighten as the election season approaches.””

To read the comments filed by the Legal Center and Democracy 21 in this matter click here.

The advisory opinion adopted today can be found on the Legal Center and FEC sites later today.