In a 5-4 decision in January of 2010, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional campaign finance regulations which restricted corporations and unions from using funds from their general treasuries in elections, striking down previous court decisions on the matter. This was met with a huge public outcry, especially on the left. Despite the Court’s decision having been made on First Amendment grounds, many liberals, upset by disproportionate corporate influence over the political process, worried that the decision would further entrench the power of corporations in American democracy.
Colbert’s satirical super PAC, however, far from effectively satirizing Citizens United, illustrates why this concern is misguided.
Prior to the 2010 decision, one industry already had the ability to dip into its bottomless war chest to influence electioneering. The big media companies, and their parent corporations like GE, have been historically excluded from campaign finance laws like McCain-Feingold. This exclusion was understandable: restricting the freedom of the press is obviously unconstitutional on free speech grounds.
But the media has enormous power over the political process. Colbert’s nightly fake news show, for instance, has done a great deal more to influence American politics than anything his super PAC has achieved.
(P.S. a big thanks once again to the editors over at The Atlantic for publishing me. It’s a huge honor.)