When President Obama warned that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision “will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our election,” conservatives began damage control literally before the President could even finish his sentence. Justice Sam Alito infamously mouthed the words “not true” while Obama was speaking. Of course, we subsequently learned the Chamber of Commerce was raising money from foreign corporations and then placed this money in the same account which funds their political attack ads.
Someone is now bankrolling a lawsuit to undermine the longstanding ban on political contributions by non-U.S. citizens:
[A] suit challenging the foreign contribution ban is being brought on behalf of a Canadian who wants to support President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign and a dual Israeli-Canadian citizen who wants to contribute to Obama’s opponent and also to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), to help prevent a “government-takeover of the health-care system in the United States,” according to the suit. It says both plaintiffs are legally authorized to live and work in the United States, but are not permanent residents.
The fact that this lawsuit has been filed is not itself significant — anyone can file a lawsuit making whatever legal claim they would like. What is significant, however, is the fact that the case is being litigated by two high-dollar attorneys from a firm whose clients include some of the biggest corporate beneficiaries of the Citizens United decision — including Koch Industries and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Two lawyers from the law firm Jones Day, Warren Postman and Yaakov Roth, represent the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. Both lawyers are top graduates of the Harvard Law School who clerked on the United States Supreme Court from 2008–09. In other words, they are not the kind of lawyers who come cheap. In 2005, Jones Day charged as much as $370 an hour for lawyers with a similar amount of experience, and an attorney from one of Jones Day’s top competitors tells ThinkProgress that a fourth-year associate at their firm bills as much as $440 per hour today.
It’s highly unlikely that Postman and Roth’s clients are the ones paying their bills. One is a very young attorney who earns more than enough to live comfortably, but not nearly enough to hire two $440 an hour litigators. The other is a medical resident at a New York hospital, a job which earns less than half the young lawyer’s salary.
To be clear, a court decision in favor of Jones Day’s clients would not necessarily allow BP or the Dubai Sovereign Wealth Fund to immediately start buying U.S. elections. The lawsuit only asks the court to allow lawful residents make campaign contributions. Nevertheless, such a decision would be a significant crack in the wall protecting American democracy from foreign money. There are any number of foreign corporations who would love to see that happen.
Roth tells Politico that Jones Day is trying the case on a pro bono basis.