No Laughing Matter: Colbert's Boosting Sister's Campaign Is an In-kind Contribution

It appears as though Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert has no shame when it comes to using his nightly comedy show The Colbert Report to push his sister Elizabeth Colbert Busch’s bid to be the next congressman representing South Carolina's First Congressional District.  Colbert's shtick, of course, is to lambaste conservative by hosting his program as an absurd caricature of Bill O'Reilly specifically and conservative news analysis shows generally.

Colbert began the segment by pretending to make a campaign poster for his sister before holding up an official Elizabeth Colbert-Busch campaign poster.  Colbert jokingly claimed that it was a Morning Joe interview with Colbert-Busch’s opponent, former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, that inspired Colbert to comment on the race:

Oh, it is on. "Morning Joe" versus "The Colbert Report." Did I want this fight? No, but this morning--they drew first blood, not me. Of course, in some ways, it's always been "Morning Joe" versus "The Colbert Report."  [See video after jump.  MP3 audio here.} 

Colbert then began to act as spokesman for the Colbert-Busch campaign, listing off a laundry list of his sisters’ accomplishments to justify the endorsement of his sister. 

You may recall that in 2012, Colbert created a Super PAC by the name of Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow and that during the Palmetto State primary, he mockingly started a campaign for “President of the United States of South Carolina.”

Unlike those purely comedic ventures, however, Colbert has resorted to using cable air time as an in-kind contribution to his sister. His on-air boosterism augments his big-ticket fundraisers to be held in New York and Washington, D.C.

While Colbert is a comedian, the fact that he is blatantly using his television show to campaign for his sister clearly raises ethical as well as possible legal questions regarding his actions, if not for Colbert per se than certainly for Comedy Central and its parent company Viacom.  

It's difficult to imagine a conservative comedian like say Dennis Miller or Greg Gutfeld pulling such a stunt on the behalf of a family member running for Congress without the media having a field day attacking him for such an unethical practice.  Given that Colbert is a liberal celebrity however, you can count on the liberal media being completely uncritical.


See relevant transcript below.   

Comedy Central 

The Colbert Report

April 3, 2013

11:32 p.m. EDT

STEPHEN COLBERT: Welcome to the Report, everybody. Good to have you with us. And I mean it because folks, you ask any political reporter out there there's no bigger night in politics then the day after the runoff election following the Republican primary in a special election for South Carolina's 1st district, and "The Colbert Report" can now project that some other network will tell us who won. Jim?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: This is a Fox News alert. Well, he's back. After a sex scandal derailed his political career four years ago, tonight, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford winning the GOP nomination for a U.S. House seat.

COLBERT: Yes, former South Carolina Governor and Appalachian hiker with extremely poor sense of direction, Mark Sanford, has secured the Republican nomination. What a stunning comeback. After being unfaithful to his wife and betraying the public trust, he gets a second chance in politics -- only in America. And Italy. Bunga! Bunga, mark. Bunga! Bunga! And folks if that's not enough to make this off-year election the political story of the millennium, just listen to who his opponent is.

UNKNOWN PERSON: He will now face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. She is the sister of Stephen Colbert.

COLBERT: Yes, my sister is running for congress against Mark Sanford. woo! Woo! I hope she puts me on the poster committee. I've got my poster board right here, I got my markers. That's the stuff. Got a little glue. Glue right on there. A little bit of glitter right there. Got that right And there you go. Now folks, originally, I wasn't going to talk about this race on my nightly broadcast. I gotta watch where I aim this thing. but then I watched today's coffee Joe morning and the funky bunch. Jim?

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: We’re going to speak with Mark Sanford coming up in just a few minutes and we’re also going to be sending an invitation out to Elizabeth Colbert Busch.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: She’s got her own show. It's going to be "Morning Joe" versus "Colbert Report."

COLBERT: Oh, it is on. "Morning Joe" versus "The Colbert Report." Did I want this fight? No, but this morning--they drew first blood, not me. Of course, in some ways, it's always been "Morning Joe" versus "The Colbert Report." Though, technically at that time of the morning, my network runs a p-80x commercial.

UNKNOWN PERSON: P-90 x uses the advanced training science of muscle confusion.

COLBERT: Yes, it's all about the muscle confusion. Whereas Joe's show is just about confusion in that sometimes people confuse it with news. But not this morning folks, 'cuz this morning was just pure infomercial for his old buddy, Mark Sanford.

SCARBOROUGH: I've been a good friend of Mark's for a very long time. I know mark -- bright, bright guy and he worked on Wall Street. Knows the issues better than anybody. Courses, courses should be taught in the future on the way mark Sanford ran his campaign. Some people have got it. You can see why a guy like that gets elected. Let's pretend Mark is not here and talk for a second. 

BETSY WOODRUFF: What I heard was that he worked really hard, that he was good to his employees.

MIKE BARNICLE: Mark, if we can let's talk about the value of honesty among politicians in campaigns. I think a lot of people, no matter where they are in the ideological spectrum were struck by your honesty a few years ago when basically you said, you know, you went walking on the Appalachian Trail, but you fell in love, so you're out of public office. So when you make the decision to re-enter the fray, was there any fear of that honesty coming back and playing a perilous role in your political future?

COLBERT: Oh, that is some in-depth reporting. You know, Woodward and Bernstein may have had deep throat, but mike barnacle is doing something similar to Mark Sanford. I just hope Mike can breathe through his nose 'cuz he's right. He's right. When Sanford finally resurfaced, the first thing that everyone thought was "man, that guy is being so honest about how much he lied." And I'm sure he would have been just as honest if no one had caught him. Well, it's my turn, JoJo. I'm going to shock some people right now and endorse my sister, Elizabeth Colbert Busch for Congress. Yes, yes, yes, she's a Democrat. But she's a business woman, a job creator, who when raising three children on $14,000 a year, went back to school, built a 20-year career in international trade, and is now leading Mark Sanford in two consecutive polls. Are we ready to do this, nation? Yeah! Yeah! And I'll tell you, Mark Sanford should thank you Joe Scarborough because I would not have done that if you had not inspired me.

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