Journalism in the Public Interest

Rick Perry v. ‘Rick Parry’: A Study in Pushing Campaign Finance Frontiers

Both Stephen Colbert—who’s pretending to support a fake candidate, Rick Parry—and supporters of the real Rick Perry have started nonprofit groups that can channel unlimited donations to super PACs with minimal disclosure.


Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks to local residents at a town hall event in Hampton, N.H., on Oct. 1, 2011. (Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images)

For months, comedian Stephen Colbert has been taking his satire to the field of campaign finance, highlighting how little-known groups can raise and spend unlimited — and sometimes undisclosed — funds on election ads. Since early August, Colbert has been raising money through real groups he created and producing ads to support a fake candidate, Rick Parry. (That's Parry with an "A" for America, as Colbert says.)

On his satirical news show last week, Colbert registered a new nonprofit group — what he called a shell corporation — explaining that he wanted to attract funds from corporations that want secret ways to support "Parry:"

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Colbert Super PAC - Trevor Potter & Stephen's Shell Corporation
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

His segment has gotten mixed reviews from campaign finance experts—some of whom called it “very illuminating” and others, “disinformation.” But as it happens, there’s a real candidate who’s getting some of the same help from supporters: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who entered the presidential race just days after Colbert's first pro-Parry ad first ran.

Perry’s allies also just launched a new nonprofit, Citizens for a Greater America, which will also be able to take in unlimited funds while keeping donors secret. iWatch News posted a fact sheet on the new group that it traced to a Perry fundraiser who had received it from Mike Toomey, Perry’s close ally and former chief of staff.

The efforts could be the start of a new trend in campaign finance — nonprofits started by allies of a specific candidate that can be used as conduits for undisclosed donations. Together with those so-called candidate-specific super PACs, the two groups make a powerful pair, allowing supporters to donate to support specific candidates with few restrictions and, if so desired, with no disclosure. 

As we explain in our guide to campaign finance, the nonprofit groups, or 501(c)(4)s, can't be primarily involved in politics but can donate to super PACS, and they don't have to publicly disclose their donors. Meanwhile, super PACs must disclose their donors, and they can’t coordinate their spending with candidates’ campaigns, but they can run ads directly in support of candidates and they can take unlimited money. If a nonprofit in turn passes along donations to a super PAC, the original donors, whether an individual or corporation, can stay hidden. (Campaign finance reform groups have filed complaints with the IRS against both Democratic- and Republican-aligned nonprofits, alleging that the groups are violating their tax-exempt status by crossing the line into political activity and partnering closely with their explicitly political sister super PACs.)

Fake Parry and real Perry aren’t the only ones who may benefit from such a setup. Following in the footsteps of Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, former aides to President Obama started Priorities USA Action, a super PAC dedicated to Obama’s re-election, and Priorities USA, an affiliated nonprofit that can funnel donations to the super PAC.

Former Sen. Norm Coleman — recently named an adviser for the Romney campaign — also has a nonprofit group, American Action Network, which was the second-largest 501(c) spender in last year’s elections. Coleman’s group, if it so chooses, can have its pick of the several super PACs set up by former Romney aides, including Restore Our Future, the super PAC that Romney seemingly endorsed by speaking at its fundraising events.

For every good intentioned rule or regulation, there is a clever way to circumvent it.  It is this kind of stuff, that makes some cynically think, that gaming the system is what Democracy is all about.  It seems to favor those with the most money and the most clever lawyers.  And you wonder why people take to protesting…. be they “T-party” or “Occupy Wall” street types now.

Margret Brady

Oct. 6, 2011, 2:57 p.m.

If a group is now considered the same as an individual in terms of campaign donations, why not limit each individual group to the same amount as an individual contributor.

I do not understand why purchased speech is considered free speech.

Riccardo Mario Corato

Oct. 6, 2011, 2:59 p.m.


Is this the kind of “democracy” USA want to export in Afghanistan and worldwide?

Thank you Mr. Colbert, behind the irony your work seems to be very educative.

Congratulations from Italy.

Riccardo Mario Corato

Barry Schmittou

Oct. 6, 2011, 3:29 p.m.

If Perry is elected I pray he will stay hidden in a closet like his donors and puppet masters. We can be sure many more candidates will play the hidden donor game too.

Every where we turn we see this kind of deception, which makes me continue to believe this is an example of powers and principalities and wickedness in high places mentioned in Ephesians 6:12

Another example is is aggressively supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement. also aggressively supported Barack Obama’s 2008 election campaign, while at the same time Obama’s soul is owned by Wall Street and many more huge corporations.

Here’s an article title seen on the website :

“This Powerful Clip Is Exactly Why We Support OccupyWallStreet”

Obama and the Dems and Repubs need to occupy prison cells for protecting deadly corporate crimes including Wachovia’s $378 BILLION laundered fro murderous Mexican drug cartels and no one at Wachovia was prosecuted, Bank of America, American Express Bank International and Western Union also laundered drug money and no one was prosecuted.

AIG, JP Morgan Chase, MetLife, Prudential, Unum, rigged huge bids and no one was prosecuted as evidenced at

Riccardo Mario Corato. 

We have the best democracy money can buy, and as long as only the voluntary force has to fight for it or we can contract it out and fight it with drones, and continue shopping,  we are quite happy to export it everywhere…on borrowed dollars of course.

Sad, that it takes a satirist to point out the follies of our political speech which is that “he with the most chits gets the most speech.”

Perry is a student of Tom Delay….
SO… why would anyone expect otherwise….????

One more reason to remove money from politics.  Dylan Ratigan is heading such an effort and has received 130,000 signatures at his site GetMoneyOut dot com.

What complete and utter bull****.  No Constitutional scholar could ever convince me that the Founders, if alive today, would see these machinations as what they envisioned by protecting free speech.

I think we need a new amendment calling for the separation of corporations and states.  What is a corporation: anything that is not born.

I saw a sign from the Occupy Wall Street protest that said something like “I will believe corporations are citizens when Texas executes one.”  Sums it up pretty well.

I wonder what Tom Delay is thinking—didn’t he go to jail for similar activities.

All that and no mention of Jim Bopp?  It’s only going to get better folks.

Along these themes, there is a very interesting interview with Jane Mayer on FreshAir from yesterday.  Here is how money works in our Democracy.  State for Sale…

Election Law, Civil Law, Criminal Law the Law et al. is making us lawless.We have too many laws where connivance trumps ethics…The US at every level, like the “Old Grey Mare”..... ain’t what it used to be…..

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Buying Your Vote

Buying Your Vote: Dark Money and Big Data

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