When Stephen Colbert set up a Super Pac to support his not altogether serious bid for the White House, he aimed to draw attention to the lax rules surrounding the funding of US presidential campaigns.
Now, in shutting his Super Pac down, the Comedy Central satirist has made an equally serious point about how the money raised by such organisations can be channelled onwards with little oversight.
Colbert's Super Pac, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, is believed to have nearly $800,000 in the bank. On Monday night's Colbert Report, the former Federal Elections Commission (FEC) chairman Trevor Potter advised Colbert that there was a way the comedian could move those funds without them being traced. "I love America," Colbert remarked.
The closure of the Colbert Super Pac was revealed in a letter posted to its website on Monday night. Colbert wrote that due to the death of Ham Rove – a large ham adorned with spectacles that served as the political action committee's chief strategist – it was time to shut down the organisation.
"When it comes to describing how important Ham Rove was to Colbert Super Pac, I find myself at a loss for unsubpoenaed words. Ham Rove did everything for this organization, particularly any of the things that an angry donor or federal official might want answers to," Colbert wrote. He had earlier stabbed the ham, a parody of the Republican strategist Karl Rove, during his show.
"Due to Ham Rove's timely passing, I am announcing that Colbert Super Pac is shutting down effective immediately. During this time of mourning, we ask that you respect our privacy, and more importantly, the privacy of our money. It wishes to stay out of the public eye, so please don't go trying to find it. Rest assured, you won't. We have a really good lawyer."
That good lawyer may well be Potter, who served as the general counsel for John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.
Potter, who regularly appears on Colbert's show, advised him on Monday that he could transfer the Colbert Super Pac's remaining funds through his 501(c)(4) organisation – a shell corporation that Colbert set up in 2011 to enable organisations to donate limitless sums anonymously. By setting up a second 501(c)(4), Potter said, Colbert could move the money around without the authorities, or anyone else, being able to trace where it had gone.
"What we'll do is what the tax lawyers call an agency letter, which simply means you write a letter which tells the 501(c)(4) exactly what to do with the money, and if you do that the IRS doesn't consider it to have been the c(4)'s money and it doesn't go on your tax return," Potter said.
Colbert's Super Pac spent more than $460,000 during the 2012 cycle, with $79,000 going to independent expenditures. The organisation had more than $766,000 left in the bank in mid-October, according to the FEC.