University Democrats

Unhappy with the influence of super political action committees in the 2012 election season, Texans — and especially young people — have turned to satire for political expression.

By January, Texans had raised more money for television comedian Stephen Colbert’s half-serious super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow than Mitt Romney’s leading super PAC in Texas, Restore Our Future, according to Federal Election Commission documents analyzed by the Houston Chronicle.

On his television show, Colbert said he started the PAC to highlight the impact that super PACs would play following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which has allowed PACs to become super PACs that can raise unlimited amounts of money for political campaigns. Colbert’s PAC has since run a number of melodramatic and sometimes nonsensical ads in key primary states that bring attention to the influence of super PACs.

University Democrats president Huey Fischer said he would not be surprised if the $6,716 from Texans was raised mainly by people younger than 40.

“Young people really find a connection with Stephen Colbert because he’s able to throw a light on the corrupt, shameless and often non-transparent nature of politics today,” Fischer said. “There is a definitely a frustration with Citizens United on both sides of the aisle, and I don’t think it’s surprising at all that Stephen Colbert is successful even in Texas.”

Fischer said the University Democrats, which is registered as a PAC and has to report its donations to the Texas Ethics Commission, does not donate money to candidates and spends the money it receives on increasing voter awareness and putting time forward for sponsored campaigns.

“Our members often don’t have the money to contribute to campaigns so we ask them to pitch in their time in the forms of meetings and service,” Fischer said. “We definitely see the money side of politics, but we did our fundraising last semester and we are now spending it on voting information.”

While Colbert’s PAC is still dwarfed by the millions raised by other PACs nationally, it still managed to raise more money than Romney’s PAC within Texas. This may be partially due to Romney’s weak standing among social conservatives in Texas, said University Democrats spokesman Andre Treiber.

College Republicans president Cassandra Wright said Colbert’s success is not strictly a political issue and that Colbert’s PAC poses a problem for American society.

“The fact that Stephen Colbert could raise more money than Mitt Romney isn’t a Republican problem but a problem of the power of the entertainment industry trivializing politics,” Wright said. “I think that people who really care about the issues in today’s election are not going to be enthusiastic when they hear people have been donating millions of dollars to the entertainment industry and making a mockery of the political world.”

The College Republicans do not act as a PAC like the University Democrats and instead focus solely on acting as a student organization to appropriate their manpower, hoping to use their resources to represent a cohesive conservative voice in 2012, Wright said.

“It’s understandable that social conservatives might not be as willing to throw their support behind Romney right now, but I’m sure we will unite to support a Republican candidate,” Wright said. “The Republican party is more about principles than politicians.”

While the nation is fixated on the Republican primaries, University Democrats are busy preparing for November 2012 as they support their candidates in local elections, said Huey Fischer, University Democrats president.

The University Democrats are working to make students aware of the issues that affect them by bringing guest speakers to campus and leading voter registration drives, helping the Democratic vote that has already been put in a good position by competition between the Republican candidates, Fischer said.

“We’re pretty confident that President [Barack] Obama has reelection in the bag after watching the Republican debates,” Fischer said. “It’s pretty clear from the campaign trail that no matter who the candidate is, they aren’t going to get the support of the entire Republican party.

President Obama has accomplished a lot in the last few years, and the debates are making us think that we aren’t going to have as much difficulty in 2012 as we initially thought we would.”

The Democrats and other political organizations on campus are still concerned that a recent redistricting battle will take away the student vote this spring. A January circuit court ruling has now pushed the primary into the middle of exam week or possibly the summer, said Andre Treiber, spokesman for the University Democrats.

“For the University Democrats, this is a nightmare,” Treiber said. “As an organization that has participated in voter registration drives such as Hook the Vote, it will be unfortunate to see very low voter turnout among college-aged students in the event of a summer primary. Since many students leave Austin over the summer, they would have to jump through some amount of hoops to vote in Travis County, and it is already hard enough to get people to simply vote in the [Flawn Academic Center].”

University Democrats will still be meeting with the Central Austin Democrats on Feb. 18 to decide whether or not local candidates will receive their Austin Progressive Coalition

Endorsement, an award that places 30,000 yellow door hangers in central Austin and guarantees the support of the two organizations, said Rick Cofer, president of the Central Austin Democrats.

“Going back for 30 years, the University Democrats have held an endorsement forum in conjunction with the Central Austin Democrats and folks who participate in that program,” Cofer said. “They are a pretty influential group in the local democratic ecosystem, and they are able to draw a lot of big names because of it.”