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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: June 2014

2 - Explaining the global shell game


The mainstay of this book is a global field experiment based on soliciting thousands of offers for shell companies. But what are shell companies? Why are they important? And what are the challenges in regulating their use? This chapter is devoted to answering each of these questions.

The antics of the American comic Stephen Colbert illustrate some of the challenges associated with shell companies. In the lead-up to the 2012 US Presidential election, Colbert satirized the artifice and conceits involved in election fundraising by creating both a Super-PAC and an anonymous shell corporation to hide its donors. His lampoon gets to the heart of the separation between legal form and substantive reality that provides the rationale for shell companies.

Colbert ’s spoof began with a Super-PAC (Political Action Committee), i.e. a group that may receive unlimited funds for election campaigns, but must stay ostensibly independent of any candidate or political party. While Super-PACs maintain a legal i ction of independence, in reality they appear to coordinate with a candidate, such as Mitt Romney ’s Restore Our Future Super-PAC or President Barack Obama’s Priorities USA Action. Mocking this pretense of independence coupled with the reality of close control, Colbert set up his own Super-PAC called “Dei nitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert.