Media can be a viable watchdog for PACs

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For the past month or so, Iowa has been the stomping ground for Republican presidential hopefuls, all of whom were trying to get a good start in the presidential race by succeeding in Iowa’s Ames straw poll.

They have inundated Iowa citizens with television and radio commercials trying to win over their votes — but, as they did, Iowans were also watching a very different sort of political commercial, one funded by none other than comedian Stephen Colbert, who has decided to form his own super-PAC.

A super-PAC, officially titled an “independent expenditure-only committee,” is an organization or committee that can essentially spend as much money as it wants on an election, so long as it does not directly coordinate with a political party or candidate. For example, American Crossroads, a conservative super-PAC, spent over $38 million on advertisements supporting Republican candidates in the 2010 election.

As a Colbert Report employee said in an interview with The New York Times, “We decided that we would just see how far we could go. And it turns out that, like everyone else raising money in politics, we can pretty much do what we want.” He also noted, “Not even the actual news reporters want to cover campaign finance.”

Which, of course, begs the question: Why not? As Colbert has proven, it’s fairly simple to infiltrate the system and learn about the free rein that corporations can have by forming a super-PAC. Why did it take a comedian to bring attention to this large issue within our political system?

Perhaps, as Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, said in The New York Times’ article, “he is taking advantage of loopholes to set up an organization that is not a legitimate political action committee, if there is such a thing, to make the point that the current system is a form of legalized bribery. Try making that point as a member of the mainstream media and holding on to your objectivity.”

True, it may not be possible to objectively criticize PACs, but at the very least the mainstream media should report on them so readers can have the opportunity to draw their own conclusions about the flaws of the system. Newspapers might not find campaign finance as compelling a story as Howard Schultz’s favorite Seattle Starbucks location — an actual article that graced the homepage of The New York Times’ website Saturday night — but as journalists, it is a story they should feel a duty to report.