Writing for Forbes on May 18, Stephane Fitch described some of the intricacies of the Pritzker family finances, at home and abroad:
"Congress could finally make public one of the grandest and most successful family tax-avoidance schemes ever--one that exposed some pretty significant blind spots in the laws that govern family trusts. Congress should ask some probing questions. Pritzker's first act as a public servant could be to answer them frankly. A.N. Pritzker set up the family's first offshore trusts 50 years ago when Penny Pritzker, now 54, was only four. It's clear some of the family's ploys wouldn't be allowed today. But a full explanation of what's been done might illuminate loopholes that remain."
None of the Senate committee members asked Pritzker hard questions about the family's tax havens or what she had done to earn that $53 million. In response to limited Senatorial inquiry from Thune, Pritzker got off with saying, "Senator, I am the beneficiary of off-shore family trusts that were set up when I was a little girl. I didn't create them, I don't direct them, I don't control them. I have asked the trustee to remove themselves and appoint a U.S. trustee."
Senator Claire McCaskil, a Missouri Democrat, ignored the long-abandoned tradition of wealthy people serving their government for a token $1 a year. Instead the Senator gushed to Pritzker, who will earn $197,000 a year as Commerce Secretary: "It's pretty obvious you're not coming to this job for a paycheck. You are coming because you desire to serve this country."
Harvard Paper Applauds Pritzker for Giving Back to the Community
In 2006, the Harvard Crimson (Pritzker is on the Harvard Board of Overseers) ran a flattering profile of Pritzker noting: "Having founded five businesses during her career, Pritzker, along with her family, has continued to give back to the community". Pritzker says she and her husband, Bryan S. Traubert, are interested in the welfare of children."
The Crimson quotes Pritzker as saying: "I believe the availability of quality public education is the foundation of our democracy. This is something we are extremely passionate about and we have gotten involved with in our community, both with the reform of the Chicago Public School system and the charter school movement."
As a member of the Chicago Board of Education for two years, until March 14, 2013, she exercised little apparent leadership and was not seen as an advocate for the welfare of students or teachers. Her gifts to the schools have mostly been for athletics and athletic fields. She has been a reliable supporter of Mayor Rahm Immanuel, telling him in her resignation letter: "Education is critical to ensuring every child has an opportunity to succeed, and I wholeheartedly support the work that you are doing to improve Chicago schools."
Closing Schools Keeps them From Getting Any Worse
Chicago has announced the largest school closing in American history, stirring resistance among parents, students, and neighborhoods that stand to lose their schools. The Chicago policy is widely seen as a wedge issue to create lower-cost, publicly funded private schools. Such schools have not built a record of superior performance, but they meet one of the objectives of people like Immanuel and Pritzker -- undermine unions, especially teachers' unions.
As the Chicago Teachers Union financial secretary told the Chicago Tribune:
"We know Penny Pritzker has a long and storied history as an anti-labor and anti-worker kind of boss. Her policies adversely affect working families. She has worked to close schools and destabilize neighborhoods, and we hope she does a better job in her new position, if she gets it."
Pritzker's father co-founded the Hyatt Hotel chain. Pritzker sits on the corporate board and holds a $400,000 stake in the company. Hyatt has a long history of anti-labor practices and is currently the target of a union-sponsored global boycott.
A group of Hyatt workers and union supporters were Commerce Committee hearing. One of them, a house keeper at Hyatt Regency Chicago, said: "I am here to just to let everybody know the abuse the workers are under at the Hyatt. I wanted to let everybody know the kind of situation Penny Pritzker puts her employees in."
Lots of Rich People Prefer to Keep a Low Profile
The Harvard Crimson quoted a Pritzker friend describing how hard it had been for Pritzker, managing the family fortune dispute: "I admire her dignity and discretion in handling this by taking the high road. She has largely not engaged in the mudslinging. It is a tragedy for her family that this has happened, because the Pritzker family has always been very private."