After going nearly eight months without a Secretary of Commerce, rumor has it the Obama administration is considering nominating billionaire Penny Pritzker, an Obama super-bundler and longtime Chicago ally, for the gig.
What do we know about Pritzker? Well, first off, she is an experienced businesswoman.
“Having been born into the family that created the Hyatt hotel chain, Pritzker’s been a businesswoman her entire life and not just in the hotel industry,” The Atlantic notes.
The Chicago businesswoman has developed a skyscraper in her hometown, worked as president of a commercial real estate and luxury senior housing company, and served as chairwoman for a credit-reporting company. Priztker’s net worth as of September was estimated at $1.8 billion, according to Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest Americans.
But professional experience aside, Pritzker also has a bit of a “shady” history behind her name, according to the Atlantic.
“She and her secretive family have been caught up in some pretty dodgy commercial ventures including but not limited to dodging taxes and running a bank that specialized in subprime mortgages,” the report notes.
Back in 2008 when she was “widely reported to be a leading contender for commerce secretary,” The New York Times laid down some difficult truths about Pritzger. It’s true that 53-year-old woman — then just 49 — has managed a number of businesses in her career. Unfortunately, one of them was Superior Bank which, in The Times‘s words, “focused on bundling subprime mortgages into securities, the practice that later helped set off the current financial crisis.” Oops. That bank went under in 2001, but not after the Pritzker family agreed to pay $460 million in damages to depositors. Her involvement in Superior Bank would be trouble enough in a Senate confirmation hearing, but Pritzker’s family is also well known for their tax avoidance techniques. Borrowing The Times‘s wording again, “The Pritzkers were pioneers in using tax loopholes to shelter their holdings from the Internal Revenue Service, and many of their dealings have never been made public.”
Many believe these dealings prompted the Chicago billionaire to withdraw her name from consideration back in 2008 when it was widely believed President Obama would nominate for Commerce secretary.
But that was then and this is now.
Perhaps the White House is hoping America’s dislike for “shady” business deals has lessened somewhat since the 2008 financial meltdown (or since the anti-business 2012 presidential election).
Or maybe President Obama has suddenly remembered that he owes her. Indeed, considering the fact that Pritzker generated roughly $745 million for the 2008 Obama campaign and brought in another $53 million for the inauguration, according to the Financial Times, we’d say President Obama owes her big time.
Whatever the case may be, should the Obama administration nominate Pritzker for Commerce Secretary, the reason she withdrew her name in 2008 — worries that her family’s business decisions would make for an ugly hearing — could very well resurface in 2012.
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