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Ear to the Ground

Obama Selects Billionaire Campaign Backer as Commerce Secretary

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Posted on May 2, 2013
AP/Carolyn Kaster

President Obama announces longtime fundraiser and business executive Penny Pritzker as his Commerce pick at the White House on Thursday.

Barack Obama has once again dropped all pretenses of being a progressive president by nominating Penny Pritzker—a major campaign contributor with a personal fortune estimated at $1.85 billion and a history of dogging bank regulations—to head the Commerce Department.

Pritzker is listed by Forbes magazine as one of the 300 wealthiest Americans. Her membership in the 1 percent is attributed to her family’s founding role in the Hyatt Hotels Corporation, of which she is a sitting board member. The Los Angeles Times writes that the company has had “rocky relations with labor unions.”

Pritzker appears to be no friend of teachers. When she stepped down from the Chicago Board of Education in March, a union official said she “has a long and storied history as an anti-labor and anti-worker kind of boss.”

She’s also a candidate for possible financial criminality. Her family owned Illinois-based Superior Bank, which failed in 2001 among charges of fraud and mismanagement. The bank was involved in the kind of subprime lending that brought the national economy down in 2008.

DSWright at the FireDogLake News Desk puts Obama’s pick in perspective:

“Who better to be the Commerce Secretary? Someone who is at odds with labor unions and has problems complying with bank regulations should really understand American commerce today,” he writes.

“Pritzker is supposed to have passed a thorough vetting process regarding problems in her business practices including questionable tax-deductions,” he continues. “We’ll see if it was thorough enough. What remains is the image of a Democratic president nominating one of the richest people in the country with a troubled business history in a time of historic poverty to a key economic post. The symbolism is almost as bad as the substance” [italics added].

Read Truthdig contributor Scott Tucker’s commentary on Pritzker in a critical piece on the Hyatt Hotels Corp., “The Price of a Good Night’s Sleep,” published on Truthdig in early 2012.

“If Pritzker’s name is unfamiliar to many readers,” Tucker wrote, “that’s because she wields much more power than many more famous rich people (including [Donald] Trump) and plays an even more central role in the inner circles of the ruling class.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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