Late Night: Stewart and Colbert push limits of 'not coordinating'
Last week, Stephen Colbert handed over control of his "super PAC" to colleague Jon Stewart. The stated purpose of the power-transfer was to clear the way for Colbert's (largely symbolic) presidential bid in South Carolina and, in the process, to make a point about our nation's increasingly slippery campaign-finance laws.
Now that Stewart has taken over the reins of the well-funded super PAC, he is legally prohibited from coordinating directly with Colbert. But that didn't stop Stewart and Colbert from engaging in a rather productive non-coordinating strategy on Tuesday's episode of "The Daily Show."
In the segment, Stewart and Colbert demonstrated two of the giant "loop-chasms" candidates can use to coordinate, however indirectly, with their super PACs. First, there's that little thing called television. While Newt Gingrich can't call up the head of his super PAC and tell him to stop running attack ads aimed at Mitt Romney, he can — and has — taken to the airwaves to communicate that very message.
The same thing goes for Colbert. As he explained to Stewart, "I can't tell you, but I can tell everyone through television, and if you happen to be watching, well, I can't prevent that, Jon." To illustrate the absurdity of the loophole, Colbert sat behind a fake television set and ordered Stewart "not to run vicious characer assassination ads that impugn and borderline slander any candidate, if in any way those ads can be traced back to me."
The second loophole? Stewart and Colbert share the same lawyer, Trevor Potter, who listened via speaker-phone to make sure the hosts were not violating any laws. By simply modulating the tone of his voice, Colbert was able to authorize Stewart to make a new wave of attack ads and to buy airtime in Charleston rather than Columbia.
According to Potter, it was probably all legal and, even if it wasn't, there's little chance they could go to jail. In the worst-case scenario, they may get fined "four to six figures."
"Where am I going to get that kind of money?" Stewart asked.
Take a wild guess.
Photo: From left; Trevor Potter, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. Credit: Kristopher Long / Associated Press.