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Doesn't Antonio Villaraigosa have enough jobs already?

October 23, 2013|By Michael Hiltzik
  • Antonio Villaraigosa and President Obama. Didn't the former mayor used to look out for the little guy?
Antonio Villaraigosa and President Obama. Didn't the former mayor… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

It looks like former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who we heard was intent on keeping his political options open when he left City Hall this summer -- a run for governor was mentioned -- has instead decided to go for the money.

The question is how many conflicts of interest this onetime rising Democratic star can juggle at once.

Villaraigosa's newest deal is an advisory contract with the big public relations firm Edelman. That's curious, because Edelman also handles PR for hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who has been on a months-long campaign to bring down the Los Angeles multilevel marketing firm Herbalife Ltd. -- where Villaraigosa is also a paid advisor.

Villraigosa and Edelman both assured my colleagues Stuart Pfeifer and David Zahniser that there's no conflict. They say Edelman's a big global firm and the ex-Mayor won't work on anything there related to Herbalife and Ackman. Right. Nothing to see here. 

This is not the only thing about Villaraigosa's business connections that feels, shall we say, skeevy. His most questionable gig is as an Herbalife front man. That's because Herbalife targets the Latino community to line up distributors -- a home-based sales force recruited with dreams of the riches to be reaped as Herbalife reps. About 60% of its distributors are Latinos, the company acknowledges.

In truth, only a tiny fraction of distributors make any money to speak of. "I absolutely think they're being victimized, and I think it's a really bad idea to become a distributor," says Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, one of five Latino organizations that met with Federal Trade Commission officials this summer to ask for an FTC probe of Herbalife. 

So this is the company Villaraigosa is representing. Make no mistake: Herbalife signed him on because of his great popularity in the Latino community. He really ought to be asking himself if he's doing the community any favors by helping Herbalife pitch the illusory wealth to be made by Latino distributors selling Latino customers products with questionable health benefits

This was not the first time Villaraigosa took a community he should be looking out for and threw it under the bus. Progressive Democrats, who once held him up as a promising figure, were aghast last year when he joined the board of Fix the Debt, a group that masquerades as a purveyor of centrist, bipartisan fiscal solutions but really stands up for the interests of the corporate CEO class. It's supported by hedge fund billionaire Pete Peterson, whose aim is to gut Social Security and Medicare because he thinks providing benefits to the needy and elderly will bankrupt the country. Here's what I wrote about Peterson last year.

Villaraigosa fell right into line with Fix the Debt's mantra, telling Huffpost Live it was time to "trim ... entitlements to strengthen them over time" and positioning himself as a courageous truth-teller on the topic. ("I'm not looking to be popular -- I'm looking to do what's right.") That always goes over well with the Big Money. But does he really think Peterson and Fix the Debt have seniors' interests at heart? 

Here's betting that Herbalife and Edelman won't be the last of Villaraigosa's eager employers. 

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or by email.


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