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Stephen Colbert readies for presidential run [video]

January 13, 2012|By Kim Geiger
(AP Photo/Comedy Central,…)

After hinting that he might jump into the South Carolina presidential primary race, satirist Stephen Colbert on Thursday moved one step closer to becoming a presidential candidate, declaring the formation of an “exploratory committee” and turning over his super-PAC to fellow Comedy Central host Jon Stewart.

The move is largely symbolic – Colbert missed the Nov. 1 deadline to join the GOP primary ballot and has not qualified for the ballot in any other states. It's unclear how he plans to win votes in South Carolina, where write-in votes “are not allowed in political party primaries or for president and vice-president," according to the South Carolina State Election Commission.

But it allows Colbert to press forward with what has become a running skit mocking federal campaign laws.

In the first presidential election since the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, the GOP primary  has been marked by a flood of money from so-called super-PACs, a new type of committee that can collect unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and individuals and spend that money to run ads on behalf of a candidate, so long as it does not coordinate with the candidate or the candidate's campaign.

On his show Thursday night, Colbert noted the many super-PACs that have been created by the former aides of  current GOP contenders, mocking the idea that coordination wasn't happening. (Former Obama aides have also formed their own super-PAC.)

“I wouldn't even want to create the appearance of electoral skulduggery,” Colbert said before bringing Stewart onstage to discuss turning Colbert's super-PAC over to his friend and coworker.

“Can we do this?” Stewart asked. “Because you and I are also business partners...”

Trevor Potter, Colbert's lawyer who has become a regular fixture in the ongoing skit, gave them the go-ahead. Stewart can even employ Colbert's super-PAC staff, Potter said, “as long as they have no knowledge of Stephen's plans.”

“Well, that's easy,” Colbert said. “I don't know what the hell I'm doing.”

Colbert's decision to “explore” running for president was prompted by a recent poll which showed him placing ahead of former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, a candidate who has been campaigning for months.

The poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, showed Colbert with 5% support  in South Carolina, compared to Huntsman's 4%.  Mitt Romney led the poll with 27%, followed by Newt Gingrich with 23%, Rick Santorum with 18%, Ron Paul with 8% and Rick Perry with 7%.

Much of Colbert's support came from Democrats. Thirty-four percent of Democrats planning to vote in the GOP primary would support Colbert, the poll found.

And nothing would prevent Stewart from running ads in South Carolina promoting Colbert's candidacy, if he chose to run.

Colbert's super-PAC has been raising money since the summer. The committee has not yet disclosed how much it has raised, but Colbert wrote the amount down and shared it with Potter on Thursday.

“That is shocking,” Potter said.

Last year, Colbert offered to spend $400,000 in super-PAC funds to pay for the cost of the GOP primary in exchange for naming rights --  "we would finally raise democracy to the same level as the Tostitos™ Fiesta Bowl and Kardashian™ weddings" -- and including a referendum -- "corporations are people," or "only people are people" -- on the ballot. The deal was rebuffed by a state Supreme Court ruling that said the state's counties had to pay the cost of holding primaries.

Colbert came back with a new offer of $500,000 for the counties.

"The counties need the money, and Colbert Super PAC wants to give it to you; call it a Christmas Miracle," he wrote in a December column for The State. "I’ve already filled out the check, and to prove it’s no joke, I’ve written 'No Joke' in the memo line."

It's also not the first time he's tried to run in South Carolina.

Under the slogan, "First to secede, first to succeed," Colbert in October of 2007 tried to join the ballots of both the Republican and Democratic primaries.

But the jig was up within a month when Colbert decided that gaining access to the Republican ballot was too expensive and the South Carolina Democratic Party refused to put him on their ballot because he "wasn't a serious candidate."

“Folks, I got hurt,” Colbert said Thursday, referring to the 2008 ordeal. “I don't know if I can put myself through that again.”

kim.geiger@latimes.com

The Colbert Report
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