Stephen Colbert will be able to set up a super PAC that receives financial support from Viacom, The Colbert Show's parent company. Campaign-finance groups fought against this decision because it opens the possibility of actual politicians employed by TV networks running campaigns with undisclosed funding from those media companies. In this brave new world of money and politics, Fox News wouldn't just be a media company shilling for the Republican Party; for some candidates, it could serve the same role as the party, serving up funding and a political platform.
The rise of media and TV in particular as a next step for politicians poses ethical questions that the country has yet to grapple with. It's a new revolving door: A politician leaves politics but continues to use his knowledge and political influence to impact public policy, or at least the public's perception of policy.
Is revolving from politics into television less nefarious and inappropriate than revolving into a lobbying firm? The new revolving door is necessarily more transparent: Anyone with a TV or an Internet connection can see that TV networks employ Eliot Spitzer, Karl Rove, Mike Huckabee, Joe Scarborough, Harold Ford Jr., and a slew of other recovering politicians. And those politicians aren't being paid directly by clients to advocate for specific policies. But what about advertisers? What influence do they have on politicians and the policies they advocate on TV? And if those politicians then go back into public office -- with the financial support of the media company that survives on the back of those advertisers -- what influence might advertising companies have on these candidates' policies?
Politicians are required now to take time away from the rough and tumble of politics before they re-enter as lobbyists. Should they be required to take time away before they sign on as a different kind of influencer -- a media super star?