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Meet Obama's Anti-Labor, Subprime-Lending, Housekeeper-Mistreating Billionaire Nominee for Commerce Secretary

Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman interviews Aaron Mate and David Moberg on his article, "3 Troubling Things To Know About Billionaire Penny Pritzker."

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And the—there is also a history of conflict of interests that the Pritzkers have shown in terms of the ways they have used their public ties to advance their own private interests. For example, in terms of Superior Bank, which is one of the other important things to know about the Pritzker record, they got, as a family, financial aid from the federal government to take over the failed savings and loan. And when they ran it into the ground and left many of the depositors high and dry, they managed to set up an arrangement with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation that permitted them to actually make money off of the failure of the bank, and all of this at a time that was—the bank was—leading to these lawsuits for many of the depositors.

I think that there are at least two reasons why this nomination was particularly disappointing from Obama, even thought it’s quite understandable, given the close ties that Obama and Penny Pritzker have had. One of those troubling issues is economic. We’re still coming out of one of the worst recessions in history of the country, and that recession was triggered by a housing bubble based on subprime lending and securitization of those subprime loans that then collapsed as the economy began to slow down. And Penny Pritzker’s and the Pritzker family activities through Superior Bank really established the subprime lending industry and set the stage for this eventual collapse of the economy. Overall, the business practice record of the Pritzkers is simply not what the president of any party, but especially the Democratic Party, should be advancing as a model.

And the second concern beyond this kind of economic issue, broadly speaking, that’s hurt the vast majority of working people in this country, there is a political issue. And as a lot of people have noted for a number of years, that the Democratic Party, that once claimed to be the party of working people, has drifted more and more to try to compete with the Republican Party to be the party of the rich. And the kind of ties that are reflected in the links of Obama to Pritzker and through Pritzker beyond to many of the other financial titans in the Democratic Party, that all represents a kind of drift of the party itself and of American politics away from any kind of representation of workers’ interests. So, it’s—

Amy Goodman: David Moberg, I wanted to ask you about the previous nomination. President Obama had already attempted to nominate Penny Pritzker—he did nominate her in his first term, but she ultimately had to pull out. Can you talk about what the reasons were, and especially this issue of offshore accounts and the family’s infighting over the enormous wealth and dividing it up?

David Moberg:  Well, basically, the nomination was withdrawn for fear of the bad publicity that might come out concerning all these different activities of the Pritzkers. The family itself, including Penny Pritzker, have long relied on a variety of schemes of avoiding paying taxes, which itself is hardly the kind of model that one would hope for from a commerce secretary. And much of that has been done through offshore accounts and shelters of money. A lot of accounts depict Penny Pritzker as if she were simply kind of an unwitting beneficiary of things done by other people or, in some cases, an unwitting victim of things done by other people, so that the offshore accounts are often described as having been set up before she reached adulthood. Well, she’s been an adult quite a long while, and there was no need for her to continue to shelter income in these tax havens overseas. So, I think that the administration was worried about how this would look. But increasingly, it doesn’t seem to care that much. And given the kind of kid gloves treatment from both most of the Republicans and Democrats on the committee, there seems to be good reason for them not to worry about any bad publicity this time around.