Politico

Top White House tech critic Tim Wu holds more than $1M in Bitcoin


Tim Wu, a top antitrust expert at the White House, is a Bitcoin millionaire, according to a personal financial disclosure he recently filed.

Wu, a tough critic of tech companies’ power, owns between $1 million and $5 million in Bitcoin, as well as between $100,001 and $250,000 in Filecoin, which is a storage platform for cryptocurrency, according to the disclosure. His investment in Bitcoin is his largest holding in his financial portfolio.

Wu joined the Biden administration in March as special assistant for technology and competition policy to the president at the National Economic Council. While Wu will not have any involvement in developing policies about cryptocurrency in that role, the disclosures show that one of Big Tech’s most prominent critics is also invested in an asset class that is a major tech world obsession.

Wu hasn’t always been a fan of Bitcoin. In 2017, he called it a “bubble” and posed the question “is it really worth anything at all?”

“Bitcoin isn’t backed by any sovereign, and unlike a stock or a bond, it gives you a claim to nothing other than Bitcoin itself,” he wrote, although he added that that “illusory quality” describes most forms of money. While he cast doubt on the practical value of consumers using Bitcoin to pay for everyday purchases because of its large price swings, he did say the cryptocurrency “might work fine as a store of value that you can sell.” He also said Bitcoin reflected a trend of social trust moving away from human institutions to systems based on code.

Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality” and served in the Obama administration, declined to comment for this story.

A White House official said in a statement that “Tim is recused from any particular matters involving bitcoin or cryptocurrency generally because of his financial interest, and has not worked on any such matters.” The official requested anonymity to discuss personnel matters.

Wu went on leave from his position as a law professor at Columbia University to join the Biden administration. At Columbia, he made $617,500 over the 16 months before he joined the White House.

Based on Bitcoin’s current price of about $34,000, Wu holds between 29 and 146 actual Bitcoins. Bitcoin is off more than 40 percent from the height of its value, but has done relatively well in 2021, up around 20 percent so far this year.

Overall, Wu is worth between nearly $4 million and $11.5 million, with much of the rest of his money tied up in Vanguard mutual funds. The Bitcoin investment constitutes between 25 and 43 percent of his assets.

Wu’s disclosure reveals that his other investments include condos in Washington, D.C., and Buenos Aires, Argentina that he owns with his wife and between $15,001 and $50,000 in gold bars. It also shows he received income from payments for articles, speeches and book royalties.

Those payments include $24,800 last year as a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, earning $1,550 per article, as well as $12,285 doing the same thing for Medium (roughly $650 per piece). He also has made $15,400 doing speeches, including for the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership and the University of Hawaii.

Wu, who has written four books including “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age” and “The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads,” also made between $75,205 and $181,000 in book royalties.

The financial disclosure was provided to POLITICO by the Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Columbia University, which requested the document from the White House.

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