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Does Villaraigosa have a conflict working for Edelman and Herbalife?

Does Villaraigosa have a conflict working for Edelman and Herbalife?
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said there is no conflict in his working for Herbalife and the PR firm Edelman. Edelman has been employed by Bill Ackman in his campaign against Herbalife, which he alleges is a pyramid scheme. (Charles Dharapak / Associated Press)

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa landed a new job Tuesday as an advisor to global public relations firm Edelman.

One person surprised by the news was Bill Ackman, who has employed Edelman in his well-publicized campaign against Los Angeles nutritional products company Herbalife Ltd., which he says operates an illegal pyramid scheme.

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In September, Villaraigosa took a job as an advisor to Herbalife, praising the company for its "strong presence within the Latino community."

So Villaraigosa now works simultaneously for Herbalife and for a public relations firm that is advocating for an investigation of Herbalife.

Villaraigosa said he does not believe there's a conflict of interest. He said he does not intend to work on the Herbalife matter for Edelman.

"There's absolutely no conflict," the former mayor told The Times. "This is something I discussed with both parties. Edelman is an organization with a global footprint, as is Herbalife. I'm not working in any way that would create a conflict."

Edelman spokeswoman Lisa Page said: "In his role as senior advisor to Edelman, Antonio Villaraigosa will serve as an independent consultant to the firm. We take conflicts of interest extremely seriously, and Antonio will not be involved in any business that would represent a conflict to our clients, given his professional activities outside of Edelman."

Herbalife spokeswoman Barb Henderson declined to comment.

Ackman said only: "I was certainly surprised to read that news today." He declined to elaborate.

Ackman, who heads Pershing Square Capital Management, has argued since December that Herbalife is a pyramid scheme through which most of its independent sales people lose money. He bet $1 billion that the company's stock price would fall, but later reduced that position.

Edelman has been working on Hispanic outreach for Pershing Square, a person familiar with the agreement said.

Katie Burke, Edelman's global public affairs chairwoman, spoke to The Times by email before the potential conflict was raised.

"Antonio's deep, firsthand leadership experience at the intersection of government and business will be invaluable to a wide range of Edelman clients in California and beyond," Burke said.

She also said Villaraigosa's role at Edelman was not defined.

"He's not coming on board for any specific client or project," Burke said. "Edelman works on a variety of issues, from energy to transportation to healthcare to technology, and he has experience around these and other public policy issues that will be a benefit to all of our clients."

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