by William Skink
In yesterday’s post about Montana Democrats playing corrupting money games for the DNC (and possibly compromising Montana’s super delegates), JC cited some interesting information about the Pritzker family wealth:
Interesting that Kidder didn’t catch the Pritzker connection. J.B. Pritzker is part of the Pritzker family, whose money originated in the Hyatt fortune, and whose entire family worth is collectively around 30 billion dollars.
J.B. (who was Clinton’s 2008 national co-chair) is the brother of Penny Pritzker, who is none other than Obama’s current Commerce Secretary, and was his 2012 campaign co-chair (nice political patronage payback).
Less well-known is they are both cousin to Linda Pritzker, who is probably the wealthiest woman living in Montana — living on the Flathead Rez not far from where I live. Being a Tibetan Buddhist, she has contributed heavily to the rise of buddhism on the rez and elsewhere, and maintains ties with the Dali Lama.
If ever there was another family of oligarchs that needed probing, the Pritzkers would be it.
With renewed interest in how the financial elite hide their wealth from the taxman, thanks to an enormous leak of over 11 million documents known as the Panama Papers, now seems like a good time to peel away a few layers to see what we can see.
First, let’s start with today’s Missoulian fluff piece about Linda Pritzker, titled Buddhist teacher expands Tibetan tradition in Montana (note the title isn’t Out of State Billionaire Resolves Guilt Through Meditation). Here is how the article describes Pritzker’s wealth:
The Buddha Garden north of Arlee hosts public events such as the annual International Peace Festival and a weeklong prayer festival. The foundation office in the former Milwaukee Road train station by the Higgins Avenue Bridge handles its more administrative and small-scale teaching duties.
The Namchak Foundation also owns a 8,900-acre property near Hot Springs which someday will become a retreat center for long-term Buddhist study. The facilities represent the resources Tsomo brought to Buddhism from growing up as Linda Pritzker.
In her own website biography, Tsomo acknowledges her “two inheritances.” The financial one stems from her being one of 11 cousins and heirs to the Pritzker family inheritance, which included the Hyatt Hotel empire, TransUnion credit rating service and other businesses. According to a 2011 Chicago Tribune profile of the family finances, “Each cousin is now worth more than $1 billion and has the freedom to launch businesses and adopt causes as they wish.”
The Tribune story noted that several of the Pritzker clan remained in the business world. Others moved into movie and theater production, building a military library and in Linda’s case “found(ing) a Buddhist enclave in Montana.”
As noted by JC, Penny Pritzker became Secretary of Commerce under the Obama regime. But where does the Pritzker family money come from? A Daily Kos post from a few years ago starts the digging:
The origins of the Pritzker family fortune was her grandfather’s mob connections when he was a tax attorney for a lot of people in “The Outfit,” the Chicago mob, beginning under Al Capone, and continuing through the 1980s. This connection to organized crime was reportedly what financed the creation of Hyatt Hotels by Penny’s father. There was no crime involved, but the financial backing came from organized crime, plain and simple. The details are in Gus Russo’s 2006 tome Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America’s Hidden Power Brokers. Russo’s book is crucial reading for anyone trying to understand why America’s ruling elites are, well, so bad.
So getting financial backing from organized crime is bad enough, but what the Pritzker clan continued to do to make money is parasitic and destructive. Here is another article, this one from Counterpunch, titled The Privilege of the Pritzkers. This piece is also from three years ago when Penny was picked by Obama to be his Commerce Secretary. Here is how the piece opens up:
President Barrack Obama has nominated his long time friend and top fundraiser, Chicago-based Multibillionaire, Penny Pritzker, to be the next Secretary of Commerce. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Pritzker’s nomination could prove controversial. She is on the board of Hyatt Hotels Corp., which was founded by her family and has had rocky relations with labor unions, and… She could also face scrutiny over the collapse of Superior Bank, which was co-owned by her family. The bank, based in Hinsdale, Ill., was involved in subprime mortgage lending, and its failure in 2001 stirred charges of fraud and mismanagement.”
Penny Pritzker, says Chicago-Based independent banking investigator Tim Andersen, played fast and loose with the American Dream. Anderson, who has been investigating for many years Pritzker’s pioneering sub-prime operations, says Superior Bank in Chicago, specifically targeted poor and working class people of color across the country. He asserts that her extreme wealth and privilege has not only made her virtually untouchable by law enforcement, but now her appointment to Sec of Commerce, will allow her to cleanse her sub-prime banking record by becoming the Secretary of Commerce.
That is a pretty despicable way to make a buck, and the fact that this kind of behavior is what blew up the economy seven years ago, well, I am starting to see why Linda Pritzker needs to meditate. But it gets worse. Here’s more about where the Pritzker’s got their wealth:
One publication listed eight casinos, another listed 13, with each license worth a half a million dollars. There is another $5-7 billion in casinos. When you own 13 casinos for 5-7 billion, you are a player in the casino business. That’s just the hotels and casinos. There are many other companies they own such as the second largest chewing tobacco company, which they sold for 3.5 billion dollars. They actually owned the second and third largest chewing tobacco company, but have since off-loaded those for billions of dollars. Many of their assets are not what society considers clean assets, but hey don’t care. As far as money goes, they want it. When it comes to casinos or chewing tobacco companies, they don’t care. Their wealth is almost incalculable, because according to Forbes magazine, they are the only family in America to have off shore tax-free trusts because they were grandfathered in. Their off shore trust can ship money back to their family tax-free. It was grandfathered in because their grandfather got it through Congress – he was smart to see the future and got it done. Congress closed the loophole and grandfathered him in. Forbesmagazine wrote about the Pritzker’s off shore trust, they emphasized that there are over 1000 separate trusts. Many families have two or three different savings accounts to keep track of what money belongs to who, but when you have over 1000 different trusts to handle the family estate it’s very hard to comprehend how much wealth there is and how many businesses they control. A few years ago, Penny sold TransUnion, the largest credit reporting agency in America, but there’s a question about whether she sold it to herself by selling it to various hedge funds which her family has a large interest in. Until she sold it, you could say that Penny Pritzker had more files on every citizen in America than the CIA and FBI combined, because everybody has a credit score and credit report. Penny Pritzker had the credit scores and report on every single citizen in America.
Organized crime, poor labor relations, racist subprime lending practices, casinos and tobacco–no wonder some eyebrows were raised when Obama tapped Penny to head up the Commerce Department.
But Democrats need to win elections, and to win elections you need money, and who has the money? A study last year shows that Americans don’t really understand how unequal wealth inequality in America has become, but when the bottom 80% of Americans owns just 7% of the wealth, it’s bad (I’m not sure that figure takes into account the offshore accounts the wealthy use to avoid paying taxes).
What the wealthy and connected have done to this country is disgusting, equaled only by the craven servitude of politicians who need their financial largesse to win elections.
I don’t know how much meditation it takes to absolve one’s conscience of wealth made from the exploitation of the less fortunate. Somehow I don’t think the billionaire Buddhist’s book will touch on that facet of her new religion.