Analysis: Senator Julian Assange, Care of Edward Snowden
Julian Assange may not be able to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. But that's not stopping him from announcing a campaign for the Senate in Australia.
On Thursday, Assange announced seven candidates from his WikiLeaks Party for the Senate elections this year. One of those candidates is Assange himself. Assange has been stuck in the embassy for over a year now, avoiding extradition to Sweden where he is wanted over charges of sexual assault. But the isolation hasn't been all bad for Assange. In the last month, he's even managed to regain some of the spotlight that could be a boost for his senate campaign. That boost is, of course, NSA leaker Edward Snowden.
Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have taken some command over the Snowden situation in the last month, helping him evade U.S. authorities in getting out of Hong Kong, paying for Snowden's travel and legal assistance, and helping his search for asylum. WikiLeaks has also acted as something of a public-relations in-between for Snowden, issuing press releases on his behalf. In a June interview on ABC's This Week, Assange sought to benefit from the then-mixed opinions that many in the world felt about Snowden, saying that the two of them were in a "very similar" situation.
For Snowden, the relationship with WikiLeaks hasn't been all beneficial. Assange's aggressive involvement in the case apparently helped to turn Ecuador's President Rafael Correa against giving Snowden asylum. And the continued connection between Snowden and WikiLeaks may not do much to improve goodwill towards Snowden: a CNN poll in late 2010 found that 77 percent of Americans disapproved of the organization's leaks, and a Washington Post poll from the same time found that 59 percent of Americans thought Assange should be arrested by the U.S. government.
For WikiLeaks and Assange though, Edward Snowden has been a revelation. By early July, WikiLeaks had raised about $1,300 a day since joining up with Snowden. And as Caitlin Dickson and Eliza Shapiro write for The Daily Beast, WikiLeaks can seriously use the money. A founding member of the organization that manages WikiLeaks' finances said that "the level of donation rises whenever the organization is in the press." And the boost in press is evident just from a quick search on Google Trends alone: In the last year, "WikiLeaks" was only searched more (by a hefty margin) when Assange was granted asylum from Ecuador. That extra money could obviously help fuel a political campaign (Australia does not ban foreign political donations right now, although there has been some movement toward reform).
A June poll from before WikiLeaks tied itself to Snowden showed that the WikiLeaks Party may actually have a shot in Australia. A survey from Morgan Poll found that 21 percent of Australian voters would consider voting for Assange's party, which is more support than any other new parties received. If he should actually win, Assange says his plan is "to essentially parachute in a crack troop of investigative journalists into the Senate and to do what we have done with WikiLeaks, in holding banks and government and intelligence agencies to account."
But what would happen if Assange actually wins a Senate seat, but isn't able to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy? Assange said this question is "extremely interesting." He said he would plan on putting forward a replacement candidate from the WikiLeaks Party to hold the seat until he is able to take his place.