Colbert, Potter & Super PACs
Campaign Legal Center Founding President and General Counsel (and Member at the law firm Caplin & Drysdale) has been playing an incredibly important role this election cycle: that of "personal lawyer" to comedian Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report.
(photo courtesy of Colbert Report)
Mr. Colbert has taken on the absurdities of some of the recent developments in campaign finance law and turned them into a running parody on his show this election cycle, with the help of Trevor. At issue are the Super PACs and 501(c)(4)s that are dominating the political cycle with their unlimited contributions and expenditures to influence the outcome of the election while avoiding disclosure of donors altogether in the case of 501(c)(4)s or utilizing loopholes to delay revealing those bankrolling the activities of Super PACs.
Trevor's continuing appearances, dating back to March 2011, have 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 is representing Mr. Colbert through his private practice and has disqualified himself from any Legal Center consideration or activity regarding Colbert’s political activities.
The Ham Rove Memorial Fund
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.
Trevor Potter’s Appearances on Colbert Report Television Show
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
May 31, 2011: Mr. 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”.
May 16, 2011: Mr. 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.
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.
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.
March 30, 2011: Mr. Colbert decides to start his own ColbertPAC to affect the 2012 elections, with Mr. Potter acting as his personal attorney.
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)