A Pritzker Peak Into Oligarchy

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.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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23 Responses to A Pritzker Peak Into Oligarchy

  1. Excellent! You are ruffling feathers now that go far beyond mere politics. It is dangerous, as these people know (or need) no rules and can destroy people like us at will, as an Apache helicopter gunner does an Afghan wedding party. This is the essence of Americanism, deeply embedded generational corruption. But as a writer I like said, this kind of work will only appeal to 5% or less of the population … So you are basically safe. Eagles to not feed on bugs. You were disciplined (on orders) by Stevens, but are now unlinked and adrift. So enjoy the ride!

    I’ll mention another family that amassed a huge fortune as mobsters, and then by means of the cleansing effect of inheritance became honored and respectable, and who still operate quietly behind the scenes … Kennedy. Then there are Rockefellers, who are quietly driving the world nuts with the current oil glut. DuPont … Morgan … Van Cortland … Van Rensselaer … Harriman. People who seem powerful, like the Bush’s and Clinton’s, are mere servants. Real power likes to stay cloaked.

  2. Corrupt governments are like top-heavy boats – they both capsize. Our government is heading toward that, most of us can see it. Those “with” will point out this is not the case. When you have a lot to lose it’s typically easier to lie to yourself than look at reality.

    I can’t wait until it comes. Those at the top, floating downstream with dazed looks on their faces. They won’t know what hit ’em.

    • those at the top will retreat to islands and fortresses and will probably employ private security forces. don’t think the wealthy aren’t prepared to survive the consequences of their greed.

  3. that Kidder piece even got the attention of Pete Talbot, who made sure to indicate in this post that Counterpunch is “a source I seldom quote”.

    • Pete’s view of the world is necessarily boring (not burrowing), viewing it as he does through opaque MSM sources.

    • petetalbot says:

      That’s funny. I wrote that line specifically with you in mind, Skink. Will he rise to the bait? You didn’t disappoint.

      • yes, unlike Dems, I don’t disappoint. are you proud of your anti-Counterpunch bias?

        • petetalbot says:

          I don’t have a anti-Counterpunch bias. I do read it from time-to-time and occasionally glean some useful information. I really did insert the “a source I seldom quote” line to see if you’d react. As I expected, you couldn’t pass up the chance to post a petty comment.

        • My bet: you don’t ever read CounterPunch. By saying you read it occasionally, you are trying to affect a perusing thoughtful man who is open to information regardless of its source, trusting your ability to connect dots,


  4. Big Swede says:

    Read in todays paper about how the rich eluded their own laws and shipped money out of country. The most ironic example was Putin who has stored over $2B.

    Anyway, the Democrats have now become the party of the wealthy.


    • JC says:

      Go read this article from b at Moon of Alabama for some insight into how the leak is a insider attack meant to create fodder to propagandize some (like Putin who isn’t even mentioned anywhere in the leaked material) and to blackmail others whose information is being kept secret.

      The “leak” is of data selected by U.S. friendly organization out of a database, likely obtained by U.S. secret services, which can be assumed to include much dirt about “western” persons and organizations.

      To only publish very selected data from the “leaked” data has two purposes:

      * It smears various “enemies of the empire” even if only by association like the presidents Putin and Assad.

      *It lets other important people, those mentioned in the database but not yet published about, know that the U.S. or its “media partner” can, at any time, expose their dirty laundry to the public. It is thereby a perfect blackmailing instrument.

      The engineered “leak” of the “Panama Papers” is a limited hangout designed to incriminate a few people and organization the U.S. dislikes. It is also a demonstration of the “torture tools” to the people who did business with Mossak Fonseca but have not (yet) been published about. They are now in the hands of those who control the database. They will have to do as demanded or else …

    • Swede, almost all news is manufactured, stories planted, nothing to be trusted. I do not mean to say Putin is clean or a victim, just that he has enemies who can create bad publicity for him. He can do the same thing to others within his own realm.

  5. JC says:

    Penny Pritzker visited Missoula in September 2013, checking out Liquid Planet’s 10th anniversary. Here’s some more fodder for the conspiracy web:

    Liquid Planet’s innovation is something the U.S. Department of Commerce would like to see from businesses nationwide, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said during a visit to the Missoula business Friday.

    The business was in the midst of its 10th anniversary when the secretary stopped in as part of her national listening tour, which has included stops in cities around the country in an effort to gather feedback on how the public and private sectors can work together to grow business and spur job growth.

    The secretary’s stop was an opportunity for 16 local business leaders to share successes and concerns with her, Missoula Mayor John Engen said.

    The roundtable discussion took place behind closed doors.

    “One of the things that we’ve discovered, and I suspect that the secretary will hear on her tour, is that small-business people are pretty much engaged every day in doing their business and their ability to access or navigate any sort of complicated program is pretty limited,” Engen said.

    “There is help available and there are folks who need it, so how do we tie those two together? And that’s a big part of what this conversation, I think, should be about,” he added.

    Ultimately, what the secretary hears in Missoula could shape national policy.

    “We came to Missoula to better understand what’s going on in Montana and have the opportunity to see business in action,” Pritzker said.

    There’s some more backstory to Pritzker’s visit to Missoula, but too much at one time can be a bit… tacky. While the article talks about meetings with business leaders, one wonders how many, and which, politicians got in on some meetings, too???

    Suffice it to say that I had the opportunity to meet Ms Pritzker in very odd circumstances that day, as a friend and i were going to have coffee at Liquid Planet, but the celebration crowd and presence of Secret Service and cops were a bit… off-putting. So we went around the corner to a sandwich shop to chat. A bit later, a limo pulled up, and 2 Secret Service agents jumped out, one staying curb-side, the other coming in and doing a sweep of the sandwich shop, including checking out the bathrooms. While he was doing that, I told my friend that it looked like the Secretary of Commerce was coming in and the SS were doing a sweep.

    My friend then grabs the SS agent’s arm as he came by checking us out and asked him “Are you really a Secret Service Agent?” I choked on my coffee seeing and hearing that and just died laughing looking at the guy’s face, as he said yeah, and do you want to meet the Secretary, she’s coming in in a minute to order a sandwich. As we were the only customers in the shop, we were give a cursory intro as Pritzker went and ordered, and then retreated to her car and let her assistant pick up the order and deliver it. I didn’t bother to tell the SS that my buddy was getting ready to head off to the federal pen for 5 years for felony sale of scheduled materials, and I was helping him to prepare. It would have been an amusing conversation with the Secretary about the underground vs. overt economies…

      • steve kelly says:

        So, is Missoula the new Butte?

        “Ultimately, what the secretary hears in Missoula could shape national policy.”
        Missoula? Right… Chief! A few months back some local banker was making similar claims of nationally significant thoughts on business finance, or maybe it was boutique commercial lending subsidies.

        Delusional disorder: Grandiose type.

      • JC says:

        I don’t know if people are noticing it yet, but that’s Missoula’s Mayor Engen in the orange shirt blocking the doorway (zoom in and take a look at the smile on his face)… does that answer your question? 😉

        Missoula is bending over for the extractive process. It won’t be copper like Butte, but people like Engen are ready to start shoveling taxpayer dollars out to start the process.

  6. Big Swede says:

    Putin was a wrestler, wasn’t he?

  7. JC says:

    Consortium News went after Penny Pritzker again today, and the family connection to the Panama Papers and general corruption. Pritzker was at the Press Club and was tossed softballs instead of probing questions about her wealth and how she “achieved” it.

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