Antonio Villaraigosa joins cryptocurrency firm Coinbase as paid advisor

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa doesn’t own any cryptocurrency — at least, not yet. But he’s about to become a player in the industry’s push for friendlier cryptocurrency rules.

The trading platform Coinbase announced Tuesday that Villaraigosa, a Democrat who was mayor of Los Angeles from 2005 to 2013, is taking a paid position with its global advisory council.

In an interview with The Times, Villaraigosa said that he won’t be lobbying on behalf of Coinbase but that he is advising the company on securing a “robust, fair regulatory framework” for American customers.

Villaraigosa will focus on how to make financial systems more equitable for Black and Latino customers, Coinbase said. The company estimated that about 41% of American crypto investors are Black or Latino.

“Crypto users participate in our democracy like anyone else,” Villaraigosa said. “They need regulatory protection.”

Villaraigosa’s hiring is part of a broader publicity and lobbying effort by Coinbase after years of conflict between the industry and federal regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Criminal investigations have recently taken down two of the best-known figures in the crypto industry: former FTX Chief Executive Sam Bankman-Fried, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in March, and former Binance Chief Executive Changpeng “CZ” Zhao, who is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty last year to a money-laundering charge.

Coinbase and other firms have said that the U.S. should be friendlier to the industry and that clearer rules are necessary to help American crypto companies compete with exchanges in countries with less-stringent

The industry has been spending heavily in the 2024 election cycle, signaling its willingness to boost candidates who support crypto priorities in Washington and oust those who don’t.

The policy advisory council that Villaraigosa is joining includes former Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, a Democrat, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, as well as political veterans such as John Anzalone, the pollster for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 and President Biden’s campaign in 2020.

Villaraigosa brings to the group a “feel for the body politic,” said Faryar Shirzad, Coinbase’s chief policy officer.

He “understands broader public attitude, public opinion, public sentiment, in a way that has been really helpful,” Shirzad added.

Villaraigosa said he would be helping with Coinbase’s efforts to push for a “level playing field,” including for stablecoin, a form of cryptocurrency that is ostensibly pegged 1 to 1 to the value of the U.S. dollar.

Villaraigosa said crypto is a promising alternative for Black and Latino investors who have faced racial discrimination at traditional banks. He added that crypto platforms could also serve as an alternative for people who send money to family members in other countries, known as remittances.

People in the United States sent more than $81 billion abroad in 2022, according to the World Bank. The average fee for a $200 remittance payment across the world was 6.18% in the third quarter of last year, the organization said.

The cost to send money to family members through crypto platforms such as Coinbase is “de minimis,” or minor, in comparison, Villaraigosa said.

Since leaving Los Angeles City Hall in 2013, Villaraigosa has taught at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy and has worked as a partner at the consulting firm Actum. He mounted a campaign for governor in 2018, finishing third in the primary behind Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican John Cox.

In 2022, Newsom tapped Villaraigosa to be a top advisor on infrastructure issues, tasked with helping to identify projects that could reap federal funding from Biden’s infrastructure law.

Villaraigosa has also worked as an advisor to Banc of California, the multilevel marketing company Herbalife and the AltaMed chain of health clinics.

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