Colbert, Potter & Super PACs

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Campaign Legal Center Founding President (and Member at the law firm Caplin & Drysdale) played an important role in the last election cycle: that of "personal lawyer" to comedian Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report.

(photo courtesy of Colbert Report)

Mr. Colbert took on the absurdities of some of the current campaign finance law and turned them into a running parody on his show last election cycle, with the help of Trevor.  At issue were the Super PACs and 501(c)(4)s that dominate American campaigns.  In the case of 501(c)(4)s, these so-called "dark money" groups receive unlimited contributions and make unlimited expenditures to influence the outcome of the elections -- all while avoiding disclosure of their donors.

Trevor's appearances, dating back to March 2011, aided the satirist to create a Super PAC and mock the toothless "coordination" restrictions between Super PACs and the candidates they are created to support.

Trevor represented Mr. Colbert through his private practice and disqualified himself from any Legal Center consideration or activity regarding Colbert’s political activities.

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THE HAM ROVE MEMORIAL FUND

March 25, 2013: Mr. Colbert marks the Campaign Legal Center's dedication of the Ham Rove Memorial Conference Room, while Karl Rove tries to avoid any confusion with Ham Rove at Easter. 
 
To watch the video, click here or click the play button below.
 

March 21, 2013: Mr. Colbert provided videotaped remarks to be played at the official dedication of the Ham Rove Memorial Conference Room at the Campaign Legal Center.

To watch the video, click here.

December 13, 2012: Mr. Colbert announces that while the Colbert Super PAC money has vanished legally without a trace, a new organization called the Ham Rove Memorial Fund had made generous contributions to a number of organizations, including the Campaign Legal Center.

To watch the video, click here

 

TREVOR POTTER’S APPEARANCES ON THE COLBERT REPORT

 

May 20, 2013: Mr. Potter explains that the 501(c)(4) Colbert Super PAC SHH!'s tax-exempt status was never granted because he never filed for it. That is not a problem under current law but Mr. Colbert identifies potential advantage in the current IRS scandal.
 
To watch the video, click here.

 
November 12, 2012: Mr. Potter shows Mr. Colbert how to give Colbert Super PAC money to himself and thereby hide it forever from all eyes and use it in a way that he wishes.
 
To watch the video, click here.

 
April 4, 2012: Mr. Colbert celebrates having just won the Peabody Award for excellence in radio and television journalism for his Super PAC segments on his television show, The Colbert Report.  He thanks his Super PAC advisor, Mr. Potter.
 
To watch the video, click here.

 
April 3, 2012: Mr. Colbert introduces the "Super PAC Super Fun Pack" for sale on his website - which now features a "Trevor, May I" button. 
To watch the video, click here.

 
April 3, 2012: Mr. Potter explains the IRS's interest in 501(c)(4)s and that the Colbert Super PAC SHH! must qualify with the primary purpose of social welfare.  He also records "not-legal" advice for the "Trevor, May I" button featured in the Colbert Super PAC Super Fun Pack.
 
To watch the video, click here.

 
January 17, 2012: On The Daily Show Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert discussed Super PAC 'coordination' loopholes and 'loop-chasms' and spoke at length with Mr. Potter by iPhone to be sure they were not breaking any laws. 
 
To watch the video, click here

 
January 12, 2012: As Mr. Colbert weighs a run for “President of the United States of South Carolina”, Mr. Potter hands him the papers to transfer control of his Super PAC to fellow Comedy Central host Jon Stewart of The Daily Show.
 
To watch the video, click here.

 
November 7, 2011: Mr. Potter helps Mr. Colbert file comments in support of an FEC advisory opinion request by American Crossroads in which the controversial Super PAC seeks to run ads like those being run by the Nebraska Democratic Party in support of Senator Ben Nelson, featuring Senator Nelson reading a script, yet allegedly not ‘coordinated’ with Senator Nelson.
 
To watch the video, click here.

 
September 29, 2011: Mr.Colbert, concerned about the lack of large corporate contributions to his Super PAC, enlisted Mr. Potter to help him form a 501(c)(4) to keep the identities of his big donors a secret like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. They draw attention to the fact that current loose IRS rules mean the new entity will not have to file anything with the IRS until 2013, after the next Presidential election, and even then the names of donors to the organization will not be publicly disclosed.
The segment led to an e-mail from Rove’s lawyer to Mr. Potter, which the comedian read on the air before issuing a clarification that Rove was not laundering “dirty money” through his Super PAC, but instead keeping it dirty and undisclosed in his 501(c)(4).
 
To watch the video, click here.

 
June 29, 2011: Mr. Potter prepares Mr. Colbert for his FEC Super PAC hearing at the FEC the following day by explaining what to expect and how the meetings are conducted.
 
To watch the video, click here. 

 
May 31, 2011Mr. Potter was once again a guest on The Colbert Report.  Mr. Colbert discussed follow up questions sent by FEC staff related to an advisory opinion request filed regarding activities the Colbert Super PAC might undertake under the so-called “media exemption”.
 
To watch the video, click here.

 
May 16, 2011Mr. Potter accompanies Mr. Colbert to Washington to submit his legal request to form a super PAC. Mr. Colbert addresses hundreds of fans on steps of FEC.
 
To watch the video, click here.

 
May 11, 2011: Mr. Potter drafts a letter to the FEC asking for a media exemption on behalf of the Colbert Report so Mr. Colbert can talk about his super PAC on-air.
 
To watch the video, click here.

 
April 14, 2011: Mr. Potter provides Mr. Colbert with the FEC forms needed to create Mr. Colbert’s Super PAC and advises him regarding the legal requirements and implications of forming the committee.
 
To watch the video, click here.

 
March 30, 2011: Mr. Colbert decides to start his own ColbertPAC to affect the 2012 elections, with Mr. Potter acting as his personal attorney.
 
To watch the video, click here.

LIGHT READING?

Interested in reading about the Colbert Super PAC and Trevor Potter phenomenon instead of watching it? Here are a few key articles to catch you up to speed. 

Slate: Colbert v. the Court - Why, in the battle over Citizens United, the Supreme Court never had a chance by Dahlia Lithwick (Feb. 2, 2012)

PRI's "The Takeaway": Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC Man Trevor Potter by Jillian Weinberger (Feb. 1, 2012) or to listen to the interview with Trevor Potter,click here.

Washingtonian: A Q&A with Trevor Potter, Stephen Colbert's Lawyer (the DC-based lawyer talks Super PACs, TV appearances, and those Mitt Romney serial killer ads), by Marisa M. Kashino (Jan. 24, 2012)

Politico: Satire Puts Super PACs on Stage, by Keach Hagey (Jan. 19, 2012)

Politico: How to Finish What Colbert Started, by Trevor Potter (Oct. 19, 2015)

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