Saturday, August 29, 2015

Funny Money

Comedian Stephen Colbert's political action committee is making a joke out of how money drives our democracy; now that's funny.

Funny Money

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National funnyman Stephen Colbert is getting lots of attention with his recently formed political action committee, "Citizens for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow," including this piece in today's New York Times.

Colbert, of cable TV's Comedy Central, ran for president in 2007, but now seems far more serious in efforts to make fun of the political process.

He, of course, wasn't the first comedian for run for office. Pat Paulsen started things off back in 1968. Texas singer-comedian Kinky Friedman ran for governor in `06 (against incumbent and rising GOP darling Rick Perry). And comedian Al Franken of Saturday Night Live fame was elected to the U.S. Senate from Minnesota in `08.

These were outsiders who challenged the system. Colbert is challenging it from within, and is actually raising money. Here's his PAC's website.

Now there's been some grousing that his actions are disrespectful to democracy or maybe confusing to voters. For example, his PAC ran a TV ad in Iowa just before that state's recent straw poll mocking the money flowing to Gov. Perry and suggesting Iowans write in "Rick Parry" with an "A" for America and for IowA. You can see the ad here if you scroll down. At least one Iowa TV station refused to run it saying it would confuse the electorate.

Colbert, clearly, is seeking to show how silly the actual process is. But here's the thing: The U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 ruling that opened the money floodgates in politics beat him to it.

The current system allowing virtually unlimited funds from anywhere, anytime to anybody makes the whole idea that anyone with talent, drive and a will to do good can run for office, well, funny.

Pennsylvania, of course, is a poster child for what's wrong with campaign financing. We're among only a handful of states with no limits on what any person, party or PAC can give to a candidate for state office.

And even though the media still points out the connection between giving and getting -- as The New York Times did yesterday in this front-page story about a Democratic donor to Perry getting a boatload of economic development money from the governor's office -- it is, sadly, to the point when we read such reports we tend to shrug and say, what? this is news?

Which gets me to my point: Those who question Colbert's funny PAC as somehow demeaning to our politics don't realize just how funny they are.

GRRRR.

Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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