LAURA SULLIVAN, host: This is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Guy Raz is away. I'm Laura Sullivan.
I had a guest in the studio this week. His name is Trevor Potter. He used to run the Federal Election Commission.
Let me just hand you this piece of paper right here. Can you read this piece of paper to me?
TREVOR POTTER: This piece of paper is the filing for Stephen Colbert's superPAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow with the Federal Election Commission.
SULLIVAN: Let's say you own a big corporation and want to spend millions of dollars to help get someone elected, and also, you'd like to spend your money however you see fit. Well, you're going to need a piece of paper just like this one.
POTTER: Do you want me to read the operative paragraph?
SULLIVAN: Yeah. Actually, can you start with to whom it may concern?
POTTER: (Reading) To whom it may concern, enclosed please find the statement of organization, FEC form one for Stephen Colbert superPAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow intends to make unlimited independent expenditures. Consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, the U.S. Court of Appeals from the District of Columbia - respectfully submitted, Trevor Potter.
SULLIVAN: That's you.
POTTER: That's me.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SULLIVAN: Trevor Potter.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SULLIVAN: Potter helped Stephen Colbert create a political action committee and not just any committee, it's a superPAC. Any person or company or nonprofit can do this. And they can spend as much money as they want, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling last year. And companies haven't wasted any time.
Our cover story today: how superPACs are already defining the next presidential election, and how corporate cash can change the equation like never before.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE COLBERT REPORT")
STEPHEN COLBERT: He's former chair of the FEC and my personal lawyer, Trevor Potter. Trevor, thank you so much for coming on.
SULLIVAN: Your own superPAC, Stephen Colbert proved, is not that difficult to get. So what is it?
POTTER: First of all, as you could tell from the letter, it is essentially a creation of several federal court decisions and Federal Election Commission regulations that followed them, which says that if an individual has a constitutional right to make an independent expenditure, then a group of individuals have the same right acting as a group, but it can take unlimited amounts from any basically individual or corporation in the U.S.
SULLIVAN: So this whole situation with Stephen Colbert, it's more than just a joke in a lot of ways.
POTTER: Oh, it's not a joke, because he wanted to have a superPAC for the purpose of demonstrating what these things were. And as he has put it, he wanted to bring people in behind the curtain so they could see how one actually worked and what they actually did.
SULLIVAN: What they do is spend money, lots of it. But if your superPAC is registered with the Federal Election Committee, it is required to disclose its donors.
POTTER: That sounds good except its donors can include the XYZ corporation. And you say, well, who is the XYZ corporation? Who knows? We just had that, as you may recall.
SULLIVAN: Potter's talking about a corporation recently that gave a million dollars to a superPAC supporting Mitt Romney. The corporation existed for about a month.
POTTER: And then it went away. And it turned out to be somebody in Boston who was an old friend of Romney's and for reasons of his own hiding his name.
SULLIVAN: But maybe you're not XYZ corp., maybe you're a nonprofit, the Sierra Club, the NRA.
POTTER: These sorts of tax exempts groups don't disclose their donors to anybody publicly. It could be the car industry. It could be the coal industry. It could be all sorts of groups that have ax to grind, but you won't know it.