A UT student had five minutes of fame last week on the Colbert Report—and he has his government class to thank for getting him there.
Chemical engineering sophomore Paul Benefiel says a government class with assistant professor Samuel Workman gave him the idea to start his own super PAC, a political action committee with no limits on fundraising.
“Dr. Workman got me thinking in a new way about how interest groups and businesses have a huge impact on government,” Benefiel says. “Learning about the Citizens United Supreme Court case really caught my interest.”
So Benefiel, a loyal Colbert Report fan, decided to follow in his favorite comedian’s footsteps by starting his own super PAC. Since Colbert unveiled his super PAC, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” last year, fans of the show have donated more than $1 million. Colbert has spent the money on political mischief, including an ad telling Iowa voters to write in “Rick Parry” instead of Rick Perry.
Benefiel emailed the Colbert super PAC to tell the show about his plans. “After conversing with my peers, I’ve had an overwhelming urge to start a Colbert super PAC organization at my school,” he wrote.
A few weeks later, he heard from a producer that he would be mentioned on the show. “When Colbert said my name, I just lost it,” Benefiel says. “I had to watch the segment for probably 45 minutes until I processed the whole thing.”
Colbert showed the UT seal and poked fun at Benefiel’s email, which said he plans to gather emails and hold meetings with UT students. “Gather emails and hold organizational meetings? Calm down, party animal,” Colbert said.
The comedian then christened Benefiel’s PAC “Texans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow,” and presented a “Super PAC Super Fun Pack” for college students across the country to start their own PACs.
Benefiel says he’s heard from about 40 fellow Longhorns who want to join him. “And it’s not just UT students,” he adds. “I was eating at a restaurant the other night, and some guy came over to my table to say his friend could offer me pro bono legal counsel.”
“Right now, I’m getting an IRS tax number so I can set up a bank account,” he says.
How did his professor react when he found out his student was on national television?
“His jaw dropped,” Benefiel says.