The Huffington Post Reports:
The Hustler founder is offering a $1 million reward for information on Mitt Romney's taxes, AdWeek reports. Flynt, an outspoken critic of Romney, is taking out two full page ads in Sunday's issues of USA Today and The Washington Post to publicize the offer.As I reported last week, a group of hackers claim to have stolen the tax returns and are holding them for a $1 million ransom to be paid in the 'Bitcoin' anonymous payments system. Could there be a deal there?
The ad offers cash in exchange for "unreleased tax returns and/or details of his offshore assets, bank accounts and business partnerships.”
"What is he hiding?" Flynt said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "Maybe now we'll find out."
Having worked on electronic payments for twenty years now, I believe the answer is 'possibly but almost certainly not one that involves Bitcoin.'
Anonymous payment systems like Bitcoin are great in theory. The practice is rather different. Transferring payment from the customer to the merchant is only half the problem. The harder part of the problem is how the merchant convinces the customer that they will deliver the goods.
Flynt could send the hackers $1 million in Bitcoin but he has no assurance that they even have the tax returns, let alone if they would deliver them to him if he pays. Romney and his backers face the same problem in reverse. There is nothing to stop the hackers taking the $1 million from Romney (or his Vegas sugar-daddy) and then selling the returns to Flynt for another $1 million.
What the Bitcoin payment scheme lacks is accountability. When both parties in a transaction are fully anonymous, neither are accountable, neither has a reputation at stake. So even if the hackers claim to be willing and able to supply Romney's tax returns in exchange for $1 million and even though Flynt is clearly willing to pay $1 million, the Bitcoin system does not enable them to complete the transaction.
The only thing we can be certain of here is that people are going to be finding a lot of ways to talk about Romney's tax returns between now and election day. Since Romney is already behind, that means less time spent talking about the issues Romney needs to talk about to catch up
Whatever is in those returns must be really damaging to Romney.