Obama’s fundraiser gets Commerce secretary slot

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama nominated his chief 2008 fundraiser to head the Department of Commerce Thursday morning.

Penny Pritzker, a well-connected Chicago heiress, received the nomination for the slot today, which continues a bipartisan practice of appointing political allies and fundraisers — not technocrats or ideological champions — to the post.

The department’s chief has little ability to boost the economy, but can work with business groups to oppose other agencies’ regulatory efforts.

Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush appointed trusted political allies to the post.

Clinton, for example, nominated Ron Brown, Mickey Kantor and Bill M. Daley, who would later serve at Obama’s chief of staff in 2011.

President George W. Bush nominated Donald Evans and Carlos Gutierrez.

The appointment is likely to be applauded by business groups, partly because Pritzker can champion their interests in the administration, which is dominated by progressive advocates who are eager to expand labor, health and environmental regulations over business.

Pritzker has never been a favorite of the left-wing of the Democratic Party. For example, she was recently slammed by the head of Chicago’s teachers’ union, Karen Lewis.

Pritzker “has a long and storied history as being an anti-labor, anti-worker kind of boss,” Lewis said in March when Priztker resigned from the Chicago school board several months after a bruising citywide strike.

“We cannot imagine that someone who has a long history of bludgeoning Chicago’s working families and destroying public schools would be given a platform to continue these sorts of business practices on a national level,” Lewis said in a union statement.

Pritzker is a real-estate magnate in Chicago, where Obama got his start in politics. She was an early donor, and headed up his very successful fund-raiser effort in 2008.

She played a role in the 2012 campaign as a “national co-chair” of the campaign.

In 2011, she was ranked at 263 in a list of the world’s richest people by Forbes magazine. Her net worth is well over $1 billion, partly because she’s an heir to the Hyatt chain of hotels.

She has also been caught up in at least one scandal, when a bank she had chaired from 1991 to 1994 was rolled up by the federal government in 2001 amid heavy losses. Pritzker’s extended family owned a large share of the bank, and agreed to pay $460 million to the federal government.

Pritzker has also donated to several GOP politicians, including Sen. John McCain in 2000.

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