Tuesday, October 23, 2007

“You don’t get a different set of rules because you’re running as a joke”

(Updated below.)

So says DC election lawyer Marc Elias--and who are we to point out the 2000 election to prove him wrong?

The subject was the entry into the 2008 presidential primary--in South Carolina only, but as both a Democrat and a Republican--by Stephen Colbert. (Announcement here, obligatory face-off with Russert on Meet the Press here.)

Colbert's campaign--self-promotional stunt? sweeps month ploy? or fairly daring bit of satire aimed straight at the inconsistencies of our current election finance laws?--is going to have its interesting moments, if only for the fun of watching him dance around the FEC rules concerning advertising.
It might end here, or it might go farther. It appears that Colbert will flirt with violating the law, or build a piece or two around the flirtation, but since he has hired [DC election law firm] Wiley Rein, he seems also prepared to keep to the legal side of the line—mostly. If he just walks the line from time to time—as visible as the line can be—regulators will have little appetite for challenging Colbert. His best bet is to avoid flagrancy, and this, Wiley Rein on the other end of the line, he (and even more, his corporate sponsors) may be committed to doing.

For a sample of the Colbert Soft Shoe concerning filing fees and corporate sponsorships, see here.

Now the funny part--and you can decide for yourself if it's "funny ha-ha" or "funny hmm"--is Colbert's faux campaign may reach a point where it's too small for the FEC to fiddle with, but too big to comfortably ignore: A national poll last weekend found Colbert polling ahead of Gravel, Kucinich, and Richardson, and just a whisker behind Biden.

Stunning, you say? Perhaps. Unprecedented? Actually no: Pat Paulson (deadpan comic and writer for the Smothers Brothers' various TV incarnations) ran for president six times between 1968 and 1996, getting on the ballot more than once, finishing second behind George H.W. Bush in North Dakota in 1992 and second behind Bill Clinton in New Hampshire in 1996. (Admittedly, it was a distant second in both cases. But still.)

But Paulson's campaigns lacked the cut-throat instinct for parody that Colbert brings to the game, or the conservative manqué of his character, which has made it tough for real conservatives to get a bead on him. And there's another difference: It's 2007, and as many young voters are getting their information from late-night talk shows as from the "straight" network news programs.

Wouldn't the biggest laugh of all be if Colbert tuned in an audience of young voters to the ridiculous state of our campaign and campaign finance laws?

(Update: Meanwhile, FOX's "Half-Hour News Hour"--still dead.)

(Update #2: On "Countdown" tonight, George Carlin said that Professor Irwin Corey ran for president in 1960, but I haven't been able to verify that. Anyone?)

(Update #3: Corey campaign confirmed. Thanks, Doctor TV.)

(Image via Yahoo! TV.)

No comments: