The Federal Election Commission has approved an advisory opinion that will allow comedian Stephen Colbert to use funds from a media conglomerate to create advertisements for his independent expenditure-only political action committee.
But the commission voted, by a five to one margin, that those advertisements could not be run outside of Colbert's show, opting for the most narrow interpretation of the media exemption out of three drafts presented to commission members.
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The decision is the closest campaign finance reform advocates could have come to a win. Reform advocates had worried that Colbert's request, apparently made in an effort to spotlight unregulated money flowing to so-called Super PACs, could have instead widened loopholes those PACs were already exploiting.
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Colbert himself appeared at the hearing to answer commission questions, creating a buzz around an otherwise sleepy government agency that regulates campaign law in virtual obscurity.
In filing his initial request for an advisory opinion, Colbert sought to take advantage of an exemption traditionally used to allow media outlets to report and comment on campaigns and endorse candidates without having their work considered “in-kind” political contributions, triggering filing and disclosure requirements with the Federal Election Commission.
The request came down to one essential issue: whether Viacom can legally donate production costs, airtime and use of Colbert's staff to create ads for the so-called super PAC, to be played both on "The Colbert Report" and as paid advertisements other networks and shows.
The commission said no, ruling that once ads created using Viacom resources were broadcast on other networks, Viacom would have to report them as political contributions.
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