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Opinion: Colbert's Super PAC: Good for Government, and Good for Us

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For people who aren't instantly bored with campaign finance laws, it's a fantastic sign that a famous satirist like Stephen Colbert is going out of his way to bring attention to the issue. Maybe they're jealous that a comedian may be able to get the public riled up about it, after they haven't for years and years, but some in the press actually are taking issue with Colbert's mockery.

From Dana Milbank at Washington Post:

Standing on a platform outside the Federal Election Commission, Colbert boasted about how he had won the FEC’s blessing to create a “SuperPAC” to raise unlimited funds. “I do have one federal election law joke if you’d like to hear it,” the new head of Colbert SuperPAC offered.

“Knock knock,” Colbert said.

“Who’s there?” responded the crowd of about 200.

“Unlimited union and corporate campaign contributions.”

“Unlimited union and corporate campaign contributions who?”

“That’s the thing,” Colbert said. “I don’t think I should have to tell you.”

Pretty good, as anonymous-donor jokes go. The PAC man returned to his stump speech. “I do not accept limits on my free speech,” he said. “But I do accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Fifty dollars or less, please, because then I don’t have to keep a record of who gave it to me.”

Milbank has a problem with the cut of Colbert's jib on this. He thinks that the fact that the whole farce that is our campaign finance system makes it a flawed strategy to try and parody it. He gives Colbert's efforts grief because they aren't as bad as, for instance, Karl Rove's American Crossroads Super PAC.

He's right about that, but I couldn't disagree with him more on the big picture. People have been trying to make campaign finance laws sexy enough for the public to pay attention for a long time. McCain had some limited success with this for a time, but while his McCain-Feingold reform bill may have taken us two steps forward, we certainly have come at least a step back since.

I'd say we've gone backwards more like 3 or 4 steps. Milbank totally misses the point here. Taking something as absurd as our twisted campaign finance system and layering on the parody makes it BETTER, not worse. Anything that brings attention to the issue in a way that leads to more of the public gaining a basic understanding of some of it's weaknesses is a huge coup for those of us who want reform.

Having helped form, and having ran, a 501(c)4 Super PAC myself, I can tell you: The system is as bad as people say it is. People like George Soros and the Koch brothers really do have people trolling around the country looking to places to put money that will further their causes.

I should know, the voter registration campaign I ran took money from Soros' money guy, among others. And there is a whole industry of people who's only job is to build relationships and connections with these money sources so they can funnel money to the organizations who hire them (and take a nice fat chunk off the top for themselves).

The system isn't broken... it works exactly how those people want it to. It's a well-oiled, and insanely powerful; a corruption manufacturing machine.

It doesn't have to be this way. With polls showing the public being overwhelmingly against the laws as they stand, the main obstacle blocking real reform is that people just aren't fired up enough about it, and there isn't an organized groundswell pushing for reform.

Supreme Court rulings have made it so we can probably only work around the edges of the issue, but with public disagreement with the Citizens United ruling, that gave corporations near personhood and allowed them to spend unlimited amounts on campaigns, hovering around 80%, a constitutional amendment is not at all out of the question. In fact, it's what needs to happen.

The media has failed here, and no major political figures have made it their mission to push for reform. Maybe a comedian will succeed in sparking the reform movement we need, where everyone else has failed.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.