President Obama is bringing onto his team someone who is just like the guy he spent a year fighting to keep out of the White House. Obama's announced his nominee for Secretary of Commerce on Thursday as Penny Pritzker, who is basically Mitt Romney, except based in Chicago instead of Boston. Pritzker was an important ally for Obama in his career in Chicago politics and the 2008 campaign, but her vast wealth and business history drew controversy when her name was floated for commerce secretary in 2008. She promised to stay in the business world then, but here's how Obama's kiss-worthy Cabinet member-to-be now stacks up against his temporary worst enemy:
Uncomfotable with being a fortunate son
- Pritzker is the heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune. She doesn't like it when you say that. As The New York Times reported in July 2012, Pritzker "is an heiress who hates being called an heiress, friends say, a woman who wants to be known for more than her family’s fortune."
- Romney, son of a wealthy auto executive and Michigan governor, told donors in 2012, "I have inherited nothing... There is a perception, 'Oh, we were born with a silver spoon, he never had to earn anything and so forth.' Frankly, I was born with a silver spoon, which is the greatest gift you can have: which is to get born in America."
So much money
- Pritzker is the 277th richest person in America, with a net worth of $1.85 billion, according to Forbes.
- Mitt Romney is worth about $250 million.
Hiding all that money
- Pritzker's family "were pioneers in using tax loopholes to shelter their holdings," The New York Times reported in 2008. Bloomberg News notes, "Her grandfather’s estate has been sued by the federal government over Caribbean tax shelters."
- Romney had a Swiss bank account and was still getting money from an account in the Caymans during the 2012 campaign.
Critical role in the decline of the American economy
- Pritzker helped run and oversee Superior Bank, which she and other investors took over in 1988. Think of it as a prequel to the financial crisis. The Times reports:
In 1993, the bank began a strategy of concentrating on packaging subprime mortgages into securities. At first, the bank flourished. But regulators later discovered accounting irregularities that overstated the value of its assets. The bank was forced to write down huge losses, leaving it without adequate capital in the spring of 2001.
In May 2001, Pritzker assured employees her family's wealth would be used to saved the bank, but just two months later, the bank was closed.
- Mitt Romney's Bain Capital was a "pioneer" in outsourcing in the 1990s.
Coldhearted plutocrat moment
Labor unions have been critical of the Hyatt's treatment of housekeepers for years. In 2010 and 2011, The Wall Street Journal reports, "complaints about alleged Hyatt worker-safety violations poured into the offices" of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA investigated for 18 months, did not find ergonomic risk violations, but some minor violations. In 2011, Hyatt fired 100 housepeekers who worked at Boston hotels, and hired contractors to work in their place for a lower wage. Unions flew a worker who'd lost her job to confront Pritzker in Chicago.
In the 1990s, Bain Capital bought the Ampad paper products plant in Indiana. Workers were told to build a 30-foot stage. A few days later, Bain executives got on the stage, and told them they were all fired. This incident was one the Priorities USA super PAC exploited masterfully in a campaign ad.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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