Satirist Stephen Colbert is doing his level best to point out how unaccountable, completely nontransparent money powerfully shapes our actual political process. While the Occupy movement may be raising the issue of money in politics generally, Colbert is taking concrete steps to prove how absurd – how absolutely corporatist – modern American elections have become. The full details are in this this column authored by Colbert himself, but the details are fairly straightforward.
As anybody who has watched his show knows, after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision Colbert decided to take advantage of the Court’s striking down of 60 plus years of campaign finance law by forming the “Colbert Super PAC” – a political action committee that can raise unlimited sums from undisclosed donors to spend on political speech in unlimited quantities. Since then, Colbert has been looking for ways to spend the money he’s collected so as to underscore just how absurd our political system has gotten. And with the Republican primary in South Carolina coming up (Colbert is a South Carolina native) on January 21st, Colbert may just have found it.
It turns out that the South Carolina GOP and local government officials had been in a dispute as to who should pay for the upcoming primary. The GOP promised to pay a substantial portion of the primary, but wanted the local governments to pick up a good deal of the tab too; in turn, the governments wanted the GOP – as the private party whose primary this is – to pick up the entire tab. Colbert to the rescue!
Colbert called the South Carolina GOP and offered them the full $400,000 they needed to pay for their part of the primary in exchange for (i) naming rights over the primary, and (ii) the inclusion on the ballot of a non-binding referendum asking South Carolinians to decide if “corporations are people” or if “only people are people.” The GOP agreed to both conditions. The primary would therefore officially be known as “The Colbert Super PAC South Carolina Republican Primary,” which language would appear on all press releases, signage and notices, including the debates.
As Colbert put it, it was his intention to “finally raise democracy to the same level as the Tostitos™ Fiesta Bowl and Kardashian™ weddings.”
However, the S.C. Supreme Court then ruled that the South Carolina counties – not the GOP – were responsible for funding the full cost of the primary. It also ruled that all non-binding referenda be stricken from the ballots.
So then the South Carolina GOP re-launched negotiations with Colbert. They agreed to provide Colbert the same naming rights if – instead of paying for the primaries – he just gave his $400,000 to them. Colbert countered by asking that they petition the Court to get his referendum back on the ballot, but they refused. He then offered them $200,000 for the naming rights (as he was only getting half of what originally had been agreed upon), but they refused that offer as well.
Colbert then reached out to the state Democrats, who agreed to file a request to reinstate the petition; in a snit, the South Carolina GOP went to the press and announced that they had decided to decline Colbert’s offer to fund the primary (not that, after the S.C. Supreme Court decision, they needed to fund the primary any longer themselves) to “preserve the sanctity of the primary election.” (As Colbert points out, we now know that this “sanctity” has a street value of somewhere between $200K and $400K).
But now it turns out that – the S.C. Supreme Court having determined that the GOP is under no legal obligation to pay for their own primary election – the South Carolina GOP has announced it will only be paying the legal minimum percentage of candidate filing fees . . . which means South Carolina’s counties are now on the hook for about $500,000.
So Colbert is back! This time he reaching out to the S.C. counties directly, offering to cover their costs for holding the primaries in exchange for (i) their supporting the Democrats’ petition regarding his non-binding referenda and (ii) the previously agreed upon naming rights.
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Personally, I think it’d be great to tune in on January 21st to watch the “Colbert Super PAC South Carolina Republican Primary.”
As has been pointed out many times before – both here and elsewhere – we’ve seen a real push recently to eliminate as many actual voters from our elections as possible. The new voter ID laws in numerous states, the shortening of the early-voting period in Florida, Scott Walker’s decision in Wisconsin to shut down government offices where the new voter IDs could be obtained, the affirmative decision not to tell people the IDs were free, and – of course – the absolute refusal to even entertain the idea that elections should be held over more than one day, or on the weekend . . . all of these are designed to make it as difficult for people to vote as possible.
Couple that with our corporations’ new and unlimited ability flood elections with entirely anonymous campaign money and it seems fairly clear that the ultimate goal of the nation’s plutocracy is to obtain the best elections money can buy; they’d be fine if election results were determined by nothing more than who had the most money to spend on a candidate.
So Colbert is trying to “heighten the contradictions” (as they used to say in the 60s) by actually sponsoring an entire primary election. Good for him. I hope the South Carolina counties are so strapped for cash they actually take him up on his offer. Maybe, if the republican primary is raised to the level of next week’s Little Caesar™ Bowl, people will start paying attention to the fact we are quickly destroying the very democrat structures that make it possible for us to have a say in our country’s affairs.