Juliet Lapidos in Slate:
TV satirist Stephen Colbert told his audience on Oct. 16 that he would “seek the office of the president of the United States.” Over the next few days, he signed papers to get on both the Democratic and Republican primary ballots in South Carolina, and he unveiled a campaign Web site. If the Comedy Central host follows through with his bid and continues to use his show for political self-promotion, does he risk violating election law?
Yes. The Federal Election Commission prohibits corporations from making “any contribution or expenditure in connection with a federal election.” A “contribution” includes “anything of value,” including airtime. Thus each time Colbert promotes his candidacy on The Colbert Report, he’ll be accepting an illegal “in kind” contribution from Comedy Central’s parent company, Viacom. The FEC does exempt news programs (including satires like the Report) from the “in kind” airtime ban, but not if a political party, political committee, or candidate (like Colbert) controls the show’s content.