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Following the (Funny) Money Trail: Colbert’s Ham-Handed Super PAC

The Sunlight Foundation has taken Stephen Colbert up on the challenge of following the money from the Super PAC he created on The Colbert Report, his long-running Comedy Central show.

In an interview with Catholic media outlet Salt & Light ahead of Pope Francis’s visit, Colbert said the most important message the pope could give Congress was about the corrupting influence of money in politics. That was the point he made when he formed his own Super PAC, “Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.”

Asked what happened to that money, Colbert — now host of CBS’s The Late Show — said, “Good luck finding out,” and invited journalists to follow the money trail.

Sunlight’s team, which is focused on following the serious money in serious PACs, started digging. In a blog post, senior staff writer and designated Super PAC bloodhound Melissa Yeager outlined the route of that $1,237,220 in 2011-2012 (OK, that is serious money) as a way to demonstrate the sources and avenues others can use to help monitor the real Super PACs pouring money into the 2016 election.

It’s a long and winding road that ultimately leads to charitable donations for the majority of the funds (see chart), but includes some fascinating outlays, including $2,755 to a meat processor, New Jersey-based Plumrose, which Yeager presumes was for “the vital services of [Super PAC strategist] Mr. Ham Rove over the period of several months.” Ham Rove, a canned-ham likeness of real Super PAC impresario Karl Rove, made frequent appearances on Colbert’s show.

An interesting side note is that the second-largest contributor to the campaign was Frank Brunckhorst, manager of Delicatessen Service Co. LLC (Boar’s Head deli meats), who gave a total of $6,000, according to Yeager.

Other food-related expenditures included $400 for a cake celebrating Jon Stewart’s book, Earth. (Stewart, then host of The Daily Show, took over the PAC after Colbert decided to run for President of the United States of South Carolina.)

The Wire got to wondering why Yeager made no mention of a possible potential processed meats connection between Boar’s Head and Plumrose. She suggested there didn’t seem to be that much meat on the bone. “We certainly looked at that. Initially I thought maybe [Boar’s Head] was a donor because that was the meat they were using for the show,” she said, but it turned out to be Plumrose.

She also said that picking the Colbert PAC for the Sunlight spotlight was due to the Salt & Light interview and not to any deep-seated resentment over the fact that some of the leftover money went to Campaign Legal Center, another group seeking to shed light on money and politics, rather than to Sunlight. (CLC used the cash to establish the Ham Rove Memorial Conference Room.)

“No, they do great work as well,” she told The Wire. “We like doing these process pieces, and we thought this would be a great example that people would be familiar with that could step them through the process.” The Wire recommends Yeager’s piece, which has plenty of “process” meat to chew on.

Lear’s Golden Age Woe: Who Can Keep Up?

At the NAMIC (National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications) Conference during this past Diversity Week in New York, legendary TV producer Norman Lear (All in the Family, Maude, Sanford and Son) was the special guest speaker for the 2015 L. Patrick Mellon Mentorship Program Luncheon. The Wire caught up with him for a quick conversation, wondering, among other things, if he thought today’s trumpeted golden age of television topped the prior decades when he was creating classic shows.

“I think this is the golden age, and every moment we’re living is a golden moment,” Lear said. “My friends who I respect a great deal tell me, ‘You haven’t seen Empire, you haven’t seen Black-ish, you haven’t seen this, that or the other thing?’ But I can’t keep up with it all — it’s one show after the other, and it’s just great.”

MCN: Do you think you could make a show likeAll in the Familyin this day and age?

Norman Lear: The best way to answer the question is to quote friends who run the shows today … they suggest that we couldn’t do that today. But I’m going to take a crack at it anyway … we’re going to be doing something soon. I can’t speak about it yet, but we’ll see.

MCN: That’s great to hear. Given the number of platforms available today to distribute shows, is it good to have so many outlets for content?

NL: It is, but with the amount of content everywhere, [content makers] have to be lucky enough to have their shows seen by the right people. But certainly the opportunity to get on stage exists greater than it ever did. When you have a Netflix and an Amazon, and they’re picking up the show, not just the pilot, there’s more opportunity to be heard than ever before.

MCN: This is Diversity Week within the cable industry, so do you think there is more diversity on television today than at any point in history?

NL: I don’t know that it’s better than it was, particularly from [writers, producers and directors]. From the outside, it would seem to be more at work for minority interests than ever. By the same token there’s more content in the marketplace, but what those figures are exactly I don’t know.

— R. Thomas Umstead