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The Washington Post Quotes Trevor Potter, Marcus Owens, and Matthew Sanderson on Group Shapes Debate on College Football Championship, Despite Tiny Budget

August 17, 2011, The Washington Post
Excerpt taken from article.

A political action committee that wants to change how the national college football champion is crowned had little success with its first strategy, raising money to elect lawmakers friendly to its cause of establishing a playoff system. It's made itself relevant, though, with another tactic — investigating the current bowl-game system and filing complaints about corruption and waste.

By obtaining public records, analyzing tax filings and mounting an aggressive public relations campaign, Playoff PAC has repeatedly put the Bowl Championship Series on the defensive, despite raising less than $20,000 in nearly two years and failing to make a single campaign contribution.

The public face of Playoff PAC is Matthew Sanderson, a boyish-looking 30-year-old campaign finance lawyer in Washington who worked for John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. He and fellow attorney Trevor Potter teamed up to represent Stephen Colbert before the Federal Election Commission, prompting the comedian to crack that the two lawyers "will go down with the greats of American duos: Lewis and Clark, Sacco and Vanzetti, Harold and Kumar."

But Scott McKibben, executive director of the Rose Bowl — the one BCS bowl that has escaped the PAC's criticism — said the group has "stirred up the dust with fans" on the question of whether a playoff would be better than the BCS.

"I don't think there's any question that they have, just from a pure fan awareness and media exposure perspective, brought that up a notch or two," he said.

It didn't start that way. In 2009, ESPN announced the news of the PAC's formation with mockery.

"Forget health care," ESPN anchor Stan Verrett said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Even when they're really really sick, you know all people really want is for their team to get a fair shot at the title."

The reaction wasn't all that different at Sanderson's own law firm. One of his bosses, partner Joe Birkenstock, recalled that some of the other partners were saying, "Look, isn't this just a waste of time? We don't want to start throwing elbows in that corner of the world. You gotta be kidding, the college football system needs a political action committee?"

Birkenstock, a former chief counsel for the Democratic National Committee, said that he and Sanderson argued that it was an important issue that many people cared about. Since then, other lawyers at the firm have contributed their time to the effort: Birkenstock and fellow partner, Marcus Owens, former director of the IRS exempt organizations division, both joined Sanderson in signing an IRS complaint accusing the Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls of violating their tax-exempt status.

Click here to read about Playoff PAC and its ongoing investigation of the current bowl-game system.

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