Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert offered to pay $400,000 to buy the naming rights to South Carolina's upcoming Republican presidential primary—and contrary to earlier reports, he says the state GOP almost took him up on his offer.
In an op-ed published in The State newspaper, Colbert says he contacted state GOP officials earlier this year after the party went public with concerns about how it would finance the upcoming primary election.
Party officials told him they needed $400,000—which the comedian, who is from South Carolina, offered to pay via his political committee, the Colbert Super PAC. In exchange, Colbert asked for the right to place his name on the primary as well as the inclusion of a non-binding referendum asking GOP voters to weigh in on whether corporations are people, as Mitt Romney suggested at an Iowa campaign stop earlier this year.
"We hammered out a contract over barbecue. Colbert Super PAC would pay up to $400,000 directly to the state and counties to defray the cost of the election," Colbert writes. "In return, the primary's official name would be 'The Colbert Super PAC South Carolina Republican Primary.' This name would appear on all press releases, official notices and signage, including the debates. We would finally raise democracy to the same level as the Tostitos™ Fiesta Bowl and Kardashian™ weddings."
While a state party official previously told Yahoo News the naming rights were never seriously considered, Colbert insists "the GOP agreed to everything."
The party did submit Colbert's proposed referendum to the state Election Commission, which polled voters on whether "corporations are people" or "only people are people." But the question was blocked, after a state Supreme Court decision last month removed all non-binding referendum from the primary ballot.
A court ruling also shifted the responsibility for funding the primary from the state GOP to counties around the state, but Colbert says party officials still offered to sell him naming rights—contrary to what they had told reporters, including Yahoo News.
"The S.C. Republican Party no longer needed my $400,000, but being Southern gentlemen, they graciously offered to still want it. They would sell me the naming rights, if instead of giving my cash to the counties, I handed it directly to the party," Colbert writes. "I asked in return that they petition the court to get the referendum back on the ballot. They said no. I offered less money, $200,000, since I was getting only half of our original agreement. They said no."
But Matt Moore, executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, disputes Colbert's account, telling Yahoo News that nothing was agreed to.
"Stephen Colbert, the private citizen, called out of the clear blue and made an unsolicited offer to help his home state. We were intrigued and met with him, but also wary," Moore told Yahoo News in an email. "We determined it was not in the state party's best interests to accept Mr. Colbert's offers. Everything was not 'agreed to.' We did not sign his proposed contract."
The back and forth between the state GOP and Colbert has irked key South Carolina Republicans, who say party officials came close to embarrassing the state and diminishing South Carolina's "first in the South" primary.
"What were they thinking?" a top Republican lawmaker in the state told Yahoo News.
For his part, Colbert says he's still offering to cover the estimated $500,000 funding shortfall for the GOP primary. But Moore tells Yahoo News the state party "will not be involved with Stephen Colbert going forward."
Still, the comedian says in his op-ed there's at least one result of all this drama.
"If nothing else good comes from this, we have at least narrowed down the exact value of sanctity--somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000," Colbert writes.
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