How corrupt is Penny Pritzker, Obama’s Sec. of Commerce nominee?

How corrupt is Penny Pritzker, Obama’s latest cabinet appointee?

I mean that question literally. I don’t think we know the degree to which she is corrupt. I’m going to quote Rick Perlstein at The Nation, in part 1 of a two-part report (psst: watch for part 2).

Perlstein is the king of research. Penny Pritzker and her family are queens of the privately held, union-hating Hyatt Hotel chain.

Pay attention, kids (my emphasis and some reparagraphing):

Penny Pritzker’s Commerce (Part One)

In December of 2008, Obama’s choice for Secretary of Commerce, Chicago-based business tycoon Penny Pritzker, withdrew her name from consideration in the face of a triple-barreled onslaught.

First, there was her position on the board of Superior Bank, which her family bought with the help of $645 million in tax credits for the federal government. In 2001, Superior collapsed after pioneering the bottom-feeding trade in subprime mortgages. In In These Times, David Moberg called it a “mini-Enron scandal”; 1,406 uninsured depositors lost their savings.


Penny Pritzker

Here was what one of the victims had to say: “The Pritzkers are crooks. They don’t care anything about people who spent their whole lives trying to save.” And here is how Penny responded: “We had seven years of clean audits and then the auditors said, ‘Well, maybe we’ll change the way we calculate.’ ” Exquisite humanity, that.

The family coughed up $435 million in settlement money in exchange for not having to admit any wrongdoing. But why, Penny was asked, would they pay half a billion dollars to clean up a mess she said was none of their fault? Because, she answered, “My family is not going to litigate with the federal government at a time like this”—a reference to the September 11 attacks; classy.

Here was the second concern which kept her from the Commerce Department in 2008: “Whether she could disentangle herself,” as The Washington Post put it, from her family’s “vast financial holdings”—many of which they would prefer not to see scrutinized in public. How vast? Well, way back in 1973, The New York Times reported of “The Very Private Pritzkers,” “The family law firm, Pritzker & Prizker, hasn’t accepted an outside client for thirty years because of the potential conflict of interest with the Pritzker enterprises, which are too numerous for any one member of the family to recall at any given moment.”

In 1982, when the list became public for the very first time—more on why later—the holdings included at least 216 separate corporate entities, from mining to motels. One current holding is TransUnion—Penny is chairman of the board—which is one of three companies controlling the creepy trade in credit reports. “After widespread consumer complaints about shoddy service in the credit checking industry,” Bloomberg reported back in 2008, “the US Congress passed legislation in 2003 that allowed people to obtain free copies of credit reports so they could check for mistakes and block information obtained from identity theft.

That same year, a jury awarded Judy Thomas of Klamath Falls, Oregon, $5.3 million after she claimed TransUnion took six years to correct a mistake in her credit report.” Penny’s reaction? Public-spirited as ever: “The company has always encouraged consumers to monitor their reports, Pritzker says.

The third reason Obama chose not to risk political capital on a Penny Pritzker nomination fight is that unions despise her.

And that just gets you started. This is truly a must-read. Perlstein marshals his facts, and his writing is as clear and accessible as it always is. Do click through. Pritzker is an Obama campaign-funds bundler, by the way. Do you smell a motive for nomination?

Leona Helmsley posing for friends

Leona Helmsley posing for friends

Perlstein closes:

If Republican senators have any strategic sense, they’ll be asking in open hearings about this sort of stuff: how the Pritzkers came by all those billions in the first place, how they’ve kept it from the view of the public and the taxman both, and what it is they’ve been so eager to hide. I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.

To put it lightly: It’s not the kind of thing Barack Obama needs America to hear about one of his cabinet appointees.

Let’s just see if (a) Senate Republicans are so p-ed at Barack Obama that they 60-vote Penny Pritzker, or (b) Senate Republicans give a bye to Penny Pritzker, one of their own.

Why does Leona Helmsley come to mind? Dunno.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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37 Responses to “How corrupt is Penny Pritzker, Obama’s Sec. of Commerce nominee?”

  1. ezpz says:

    Or in this case, a drivel-by….

  2. lynchie says:

    After his second term Hillary may not have a chance which is good.

  3. Griffon says:

    “Pritzker is an Obama campaign-funds bundler, by the way. Do you smell a motive for nomination?”

    The long festering smell of corruption apparently isn’t enough of a stench for some people to turn down WH invites on principle.

    It’s faster to just censor the criticism.

  4. ezpz says:

    “… I don’t believe he is evil or scheming…”

    I do.

    I also believe he’s just as “…nutty, christiany and right-wingish…” as the nuttiest of the r-wingers. He’s simply better at hiding his inner neocon than even some repubs themselves, which makes him more dangerous and as has been said many times over: “the more effective evil”.

  5. lynchie says:

    and all the rest.

  6. karmanot says:


  7. karmanot says:


  8. BeccaM says:

    Drive-by troll.

  9. BeccaM says:

    Oh, I know. The scales fell from my eyes with the appointments of Geithner and Gates.

  10. nicho says:

    Kant- ish

  11. Shouldn’t you be complaining to The Nation rather since most of C. Publius’s article is a large block quotation from that original? Presumably it’s Rick Perlstein who ought to be ashamed by your reckoning–whatever that reckoning might actually be. You never got round to explaining it.

  12. karmanot says:

    Sarah had no choice, or she would have had to admit that sounding out articles in news print was too difficult and she had ‘actual responsibilities.”

  13. karmanot says:

    “I don’t believe he is evil or scheming” Society of the Spectacle—-Guy Debord

  14. karmanot says:

    On the payroll, I see.

  15. karmanot says:

    “Out of the crooked timber of Chicago no straight thing was ever made.” Kant

  16. lynchie says:

    Well he is doing that and always has.

  17. cole3244 says:

    obama, you never surprise us, only disappoint us.

  18. jomicur says:

    Shouldn’t the headline ask “How Corrupt Is Obama”?

  19. tomtallis says:

    The Pritzkers also had an interesting in a medical financing company that went bankrupt about 10 years ago after their auditors refused to sign off on a 10Q for the SEC. It turned out that the company, in financing it’s leases sold leases multiple times to different banks. Two or three officers of the company spent time in jail. And no, I don’t know if Penny Pritzker was personally involved in this particular scam.

  20. nicho says:

    I have to admit I’m amazed at the people coming to the defense of corrupt bankers and other assorted criminals of the one percent.

  21. nicho says:

    What makes you understand that?

  22. nicho says:

    Defending a corrupt criminal. You should be ashamed.

  23. john pendleton says:

    This article is absolute drivel. You should be ashamed.

  24. Umm…I would imagine that she’s about as corrupt as Obama. But I understand that we’re not supposed to express that truth before 2016.

  25. Michael in Cambridge says:

    “nutty, christiany and right-wingish.” You left out “slutty” I think.

    And yes, this is what Republicans used to look like. When they creamed little people and got caught, they’d feign some regret. But they didn’t gloat. Contemporary Republicans crow and gloat. (Liberal Dems moan wistfully.)

    That’s how Aztec Capitalism works in Tenochtitlan-on-the-Potomac. The rightwing says human sacrifice is only pleasing to the Market/War God, Huiziliopochtli, if it’s done with contempt and cruelty. The liberals say, “Can’t we give the poors and the little people some anesthesia before their living hearts are ripped out?”

  26. Whitewitch says:

    Proof again that President Obama is actually a Republican – seriously, how much clearer can it be. I don’t believe he is evil or scheming or plotting against America, I just believe that he is what Republican’s used to look like until they went all nutty, christiany and right-wingish.

  27. BeccaM says:

    But-but-but, now that Obama doesn’t have to face re-election, he’s totally free to govern exactly the way he wants to, and to nominate people who truly reflect his real agenda!

    Oh, right.

  28. dula says:

    It seems Penny put a hit out on investors with her subprime mortgages. They lost their life savings while Penny made a pretty penny.

  29. nicho says:

    Only in GOP world is telling the truth a “hit piece,” like when Sarah Palin said that “What newspapers do you read” was a “gotcha question.”

  30. caphillprof says:

    In addition, isn’t the Department of Commerce where White Houses gone by have historically located their graft and corruption operations?

  31. lynchie says:

    I guess this guarantees O more seats on more boards. He views us as morons and in fact we are. Nothing to see here, move along or I will drone your ass.

  32. Bill_Perdue says:

    Q How corrupt is Penny Pritzker, Obama’s Sec. of Commerce nominee?

    A She’s in politics
    She’s in business
    She’s a billionaire
    She’s a Democrat and or Republican

  33. PeteWa says:

    I’d love to see you go through and delineate exactly what is untrue in this so called “hit piece”.

  34. A_nonymoose says:

    They really hold us in contempt, don’t they?

  35. GaiusPublius says:

    Thanks. Corrected. Perlstein got it right.


  36. jsl42 says:

    Why not check how to spell someone’s last name before penning a hit piece about her!

  37. nicho says:

    Wow, Barack Obama cozying up to the criminal one percent! Knock me over with a feather! Who woulda thunk it? He’s just laughing at us now. (Note to the PUMA gang: Hill&Bill, Inc. aren’t any better. So don’t even go there.)

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