With its founder's legal bills mounting and its bank account closed, WikiLeaks has one asset that will be harder to strip: Julian Assange himself. The enigmatic former hacker who founded the site and keeps the title of editor-in-chief is auctioning off lunch with himself, followed by a seat at a Frontline Club conversation with himself and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, "discussing the impact of WikiLeaks on the world and what it means for the future." The seventh of eight spots is currently going for 1,070 pounds ($1,735) on Ebay in Britain. According to the auction site, 100 percent of the proceeds will go to WikiLeaks. The auction winners will receive "the cost of the lunch, Taxis from the lunch to the event, and a front row seat at the event at the Troxy."
Assange is free on bail in London after he was arrested in December for Swedish rape charges. He is fighting extradition. You'll probably recall that the arrest came right around the time that Visa, Mastercard, and Paypal stopped processing donations for Assange or WikiLeaks, because of the organization's massive dump of diplomatic cables. That move then led to Anonymous attacking the companies with huge distributed denial of service attacks. Since then, it's been tricky for Assange and WikiLeaks to raise money, even though a Visa-funded investigation found in January that there was no evidence WikiLeaks' fundraising arm had broken the law in Iceland, where it is based.
But in March, our own John Hudson noticed that the finance companies' logos had crept back onto WikiLeaks' site. He traced the money and found donations primarily went to fund Assange's legal defense, with the leftovers going to support WikiLeaks. "There you have it: companies like PayPal are more comfortable handling donations to accused rapists than to whistle-blowing web sites," Hudson wrote. Assange also launched a Facebook campaign to fund his legal defense.
WikiLeaks as an organization has maintained a fundraising push. Forbes learned in April that it had its biggest fundraising month ever in December 2010, the month after it released the cables. Last night, Forbes's Andy Greenberg reported that the site is accepting donations via Bitcoin, the controversial new peer-to-peer digital currency. But the fundraising auction proves it still needs hard cash. And Assange is willing to work for it, at least a little. In the Guardian today, Haroon Siddique pointed out his aversion to solid food: "While Assange is said to often go long periods without eating, he is unlikely to be short of conversation given that he has become one of the most recognisable media figures over the past year and is rarely shy of offering an opinion."