Fake Candidate Raises Real Issue

"Honest" Gil Fulbright is joining the Kentucky Senate race with a satirical campaign aimed at exposing corruption involving campaign contributions and revolving-door job offers for elected officials.Now that Stephen Colbert is coasting until he replaces David Letterman on late-night TV, you will have to settle for "Honest" Gil Fulbright, a fake Senate candidate in Kentucky.

On his campaign website, Fulbright gets right to the point: "My name is Gil Fulbright, and my promise to you is this: If elected, I’ll definitely sell you out to special interests and lobbyists, but I’ll sell you out to your face. I’ll drop the act and do whatever you pay me to do — as long as you can afford it."

Fulbright says Senator Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Grimes could spend $100 million in this year's election. "And Old Gil wants a piece of that action."

Apparently overlooking the earlier campaign slogan "Honest Abe," Fulbright brands himself as "America's first honest politician." He admits to being in the race for the money and willing to toady to anyone with enough cash.

Fulbright's "candidacy" is the brainchild of Represent.Us, a bipartisan, nonprofit dedicated to "end money in politics corruption…for good." In its appeal to donors, the group says, "If you're as tired as we are of politicians who have no choice but to answer to the people with the most money, help us do something about it!" The something it suggests is donate money to Fulbright's satirical campaign, even though he actually isn't on the ballot.

According to the Fulbright website, the appeal has worked well enough to attract almost $66,000, enough to get the fake candidate some attention. In addition to a website, Fulbright has posted YouTube ads , created a Facebook page and Twitter feed and may soon have enough to buy time for TV ads.

The Represent.Us website indicates it is trying to launch a national movement to pass anti-corruption laws and ordinances at all levels of government. A prime goal is to build awareness and support for The American Anti-Corruption Act that "gets money out of politics, so the people can get back in." The group is trying to drum up 1 million citizen "cosponsors" for draft legislation, which it says has been reviewed by "constitutional attorneys" and declared constitutional, apparently a reference to U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have loosened, if not mostly removed, restrictions on corporate contributions and contribution limits.

The proposed legislation would prohibit Members of Congress from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions from industries they regulate and prevent them from "all fundraising during congressional working hours." The legislation also would limit SuperPAC contributions and coordination, outlaw revolving door job offers, slap restrictions on registered lobbyists and "end secret money."

It's not exactly clear who is footing the bill for Represent.Us. It describes itself as a "coalition of liberals, conservatives and independents," with "highly visible supporters from the right and the left," including "disillusioned members of organizations beaten by K Street…monied interests."

Whoever is backing the effort, one thing is clear — staff members are clever. They may not have gotten the Colbert bump yet for their fake candidate, but it's probably on the list of things to do. Josh Silver is listed as the Represent.Us director. His bio says he was campaign manager for the successful 1998 Arizona Clean Elections ballot initiative. Silver told the Courier-Journal the idea for a fake candidate originated with Colbert's 2012 foray into politics and byzantine campaign finance.

Citing a study by the Anneberg Public Policy Venter, Silver said viewers of the Colbert Report knew more about SuperPacs and bundling than people who watched network or cable news. "The conclusion," he added, "is that people pay attention to and learn better from satire than they do from the news."

Fulbright, who is played by actor Frank Ridley, will "launch" the fake campaign in August at a place called Fancy Farm. In addition to a distillery tour, Fulbright's campaign bus will dog both McConnell and Grimes on the campaign trail, all with the intent of attracting even more national attention for the Represent.Us cause.