Comedian Stephen Colbert is offering to pay half a million dollars to help subsidize South Carolina's first-in-the-South GOP presidential primary, as state officials struggle to pay for it, but there's doubt whether it would even be legal.
The Charleston native wrote in an op-ed Thursday in The State newspaper in Columbia that Colbert Super PAC — a type of political action committee that allows him to raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and individuals — will bridge the gap after state Republicans refused to contribute anything above $180,000 collected in candidates' filing fees.
The state Election Commission, which administers South Carolina's voting, has said it has $1 million on hand for the primary but is short of the total $1.5 million price tag. Spokesman Chris Whitmire says the Commission has notified budget officials the state may need to seek permission to run a deficit to fund the primary.
Colbert wrote that he offered make up that $500,000 funding gap after state Republicans ultimately turned down his proposal to pay them $400,000 if they'd name the contest after him. Party officials have confirmed meeting with Colbert earlier this year to discuss a deal that would have renamed the balloting "The Colbert Super PAC South Carolina Republican Primary" in exchange for a check from the comedian.
Colbert, who plays a mock conservative pundit on his TV show "The Colbert Report," says he also wanted to put a question about "corporate personhood" on the January ballot. He seized on the issue after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling eased restrictions on campaign spending by corporations.
Ultimately rebuffed by the GOP, Colbert says he started working with Democrats to get the issue on the ballot, but state Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said Thursday that effort also fell through.
State GOP executive director Matt Moore said party officials were skeptical of Colbert from the beginning but entertained his early communications before turning him down.
"Despite our repeatedly saying 'no,' Stephen Colbert, the comedian, seems intent on being involved," Moore said. "It's exactly why we were wary in the first place."
Regardless of the party's position, it would be up to the state whether to accept or reject any offer.
Whitmire said the question of whether a PAC can fund a South Carolina primary is a new one. If the Election Commission were presented with the money and decided to accept it, he said, they would have to ask state Attorney General Alan Wilson to decide if state law permits a political action committee to fund a primary.
Colbert, who did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment, wrote that he will be spending the holidays in his native state and is open to discussions.
"The counties need the money, and Colbert Super PAC wants to give it to you; call it a Christmas Miracle," he wrote. "I'm going to be home in South Carolina over the holidays, so just give me a call. Both state parties have my contact info."
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP