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Future Colbert-PAC ads should air on Iowa TV stations

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | AUGUST 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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Hubbub over comedy pundit Stephen Colbert’s pre-Ames Straw Poll commercials has finally quelled but media outlets in the state should be careful to learn from Des Moines ABC affiliate WOI-DT’s tiff.

WOI-DT recently declined to air a satirical ad criticizing a new kind of political action committee, dubbed “Super PACs.” Super PACs can be devastating to the American political election process. No other Iowa television station should make the same mistake.

For past election cycles, individuals were limited to donating a certain amount of money (usually less than $5,000) per candidate. However, political-action committees, which are approved by the Federal Election Committee, can launch “independent” political campaigns. As long as a Super PAC doesn’t directly coordinate with the political parties or candidates it supports, the amount of money legally allowed to influence a federal election is unlimited.

In January 2010, the Supreme Court case ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruled that corporate and union contributions to independent political campaigns cannot be limited. Thus, Super PACs can accept unlimited contributions directly from the treasuries of corporations with a political agenda.

Those that concurred with the decision cited the First Amendment — but corporate sponsors are spending millions of dollars for this so-called “free” speech.

John Paulsen of Paulsen & Co., a hedge-fund sponsor, donated more than $1 million to the Super PAC Restore Our Future, which was created by supporters of GOP presidential-nomination candidate Mitt Romney.

Now, the question is, how will such a considerable contribution influence Romney’s politics? In this current electoral climate, in which our current president spent a record $740.6 million on his 2008 election, politicians seeking federal office have significant incentive to form their policies based on what the wealthy would support.

This spurred television personality Stephen Colbert to action. In June, the host of “The Colbert Report” had his own Super PAC, called “Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” approved approved by the FEC. “I don’t accept the status quo,” he said. “I do accept Visa, MasterCard, or American Express.”

At the time, he said that he wasn’t making a statement against corporations funding federal elections.

Those he has made aware of the unethical legislation know better.

Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow has produced and aired two ads, both asking for the Aug. 13 Ames Straw Poll voters to write in Rick Parry, “with an ‘A’ for ‘America’ — with an ‘A’ for ‘Iowa.’ ”

Rick Parry was not to be confused — or, rather, to be confused — with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who had not declared his candidacy at the time.

“[Colbert is doing] exactly what great satirists have always done,” said Professor Rachel Paine Caufield, who teaches a political-satire class at Drake University. She likened Colbert’s antics to someone holding a fun-house mirror up to the world. “Colbert’s success is based on a mixture of real and unreal.”

The one-minute spot ran on two Des Moines television stations, but it had been planned and paid to run on three. WOI-DT opted not to air the commercial, reasoning that it was “too confusing.”

“[PACs such as Jobs for Iowa] think they can influence your vote with their unlimited Super PAC money,” says one of his commercials, titled “Episode IV: A New Hope.” “But Americans For A Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow asks, ‘But what about our unlimited Super-PAC money?’ ”

While Caufield generally agreed that Colbert’s ad carried potential to confuse voters, she also conceded any political advertisement can, and does, confuse voters.

Though the DI Editorial Board admits that this undoubtedly confused some voters unaware of what a Super PAC is and implies, we are confident that Colbert’s satirical expertise, coupled by the growing awareness of his protests, will improve future viewers’ comprehension — even though we have no idea what he will do next.

“People don’t even know what he’s going to do with the money, and they’re still giving it to him.”

Americans have developed an inherent trust in and appreciation of Colbert, and that continues to translate to monetary contributions.

While Caufield said she believes most people are not going to change their opinions based on his ads, she believes young voters may attempt to critically analyze complex issues such as PACs more extensively as a result of the quasi-coverage Colbert has given them.

As the influential Iowa caucuses near, Iowa television stations need to acknowledge the validity of Colbert’s argument — it carries more substance than most of the other ads sponsored by corporate-backed Super PACs.


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