Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Citizens United decision two years ago, freeing corporations to donate unlimited sums in federal election campaigns, we’ve heard dire warnings about the corrupting effect this ruling would have on American politics.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Citizens United decision two years ago, freeing corporations to donate unlimited sums in federal election campaigns, we’ve heard dire warnings about the corrupting effect this ruling would have on American politics.

Critics said the decision would hand over control of congressional and presidential elections to the country’s most powerful interests — corporations, unions, trade associations — who would shovel unlimited money into the system in whatever way best served their interests. The court assumed technology would ensure that citizens could follow the money and judge both donors and candidates accordingly. It hasn’t worked out that way. Congress has not acted to close the disclosure loopholes so deftly exploited by those who benefit from the Citizens United decision.

As the Republican primary campaign has shown, super PACs — organizations that can raise and spend unlimited funds but can’t have direct ties to or donate to candidates — have all but wrested control of the races away from the candidates themselves. The pro-Newt Gingrich Winning our Future PAC has pumped some $3.4 million into attack ads against Mitt Romney in South Carolina. Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC, is airing attack ads against Rick Santorum in South Carolina. Santorum this week angrily decried what he called falsehoods in the Restore Our Future ads and demanded that they stop.

Officially, however, Romney is helpless here. The candidates themselves can’t direct their “friendly” super PACs to do or not do anything.

If all of this leaves you frustrated and confused, we urge you to turn your attention to the cable network Comedy Central between 10 and 11 p.m.

That’s where “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report” are having great fun with what began as the Colbert Super PAC. Colbert started it by soliciting donations on his show. He handed control of it over to Stewart when Colbert (a South Carolina native) decided to enter the GOP presidential primary as a candidate in his home state.

A candidate can’t in any way coordinate with a super PAC, so Colbert can no longer control the organization he started, which has been renamed The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC. He can’t make the PAC do anything and he can’t stop it from doing anything. Thus his PAC, under Stewart’s leadership, placed TV ads in South Carolina that calls Mitt Romney a serial killer. Another ad states that a vote for Colbert is a vote for Herman Cain.

The absurdity of super PACs came into sharp focus on Tuesday’s “Daily Show,” in which Colbert and Stewart brought in their lawyer (who happens to be the lawyer for both the Colbert presidential campaign and the super PAC; all perfectly legal) to make sure their activities are not violating federal election law.

Stewart and Colbert are comedians; they’re playing this for laughs. But imagine the players are a legitimate candidate and, say, an investment banking firm that wants to influence financial reform. Pour money into a super PAC friendly to your cause, and both your interest and your identity are protected. For voters trying to make informed decisions, that’s not so funny.

Congress needs to act now to enact strict disclosure laws that will hold supporters of super PACs accountable for the messages they put out. Its failure thus far has made a bad Supreme Court decision a disaster.

State Journal-Register