GOP pols: Pritzker should win Commerce post

Republican senators say that Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker,

Republican senators say that Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker, whose family founded Hyatt Hotels, did well at Thursday’s hearings as she seeks confirmation as Commerce secretary. (May 23, 2013) (Credit: Bloomberg)

Travel deals

Chicago billionaire Penny Pritzker sailed toward confirmation as U.S. Commerce secretary after satisfying some critics over her offshore investments and role in a bank's collapse during testimony at a Senate committee Thursday.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee that considered the nomination, said Pritzker probably will be confirmed next week after a recess for Memorial Day.

"She acquitted herself really well here," Thune told reporters, adding that he won't announce how he'll vote until later.

Republicans had said Pritzker, 54, a top Democratic donor who helped lead President Barack Obama to record fundraising as the finance chairman of his 2008 campaign, should answer questions about the bank and her accounts. Instead, lawmakers on Thursday focused on operations and how her business experience would be an asset for the department with almost 43,000 employees.

On Wednesday, some Republicans of the committee -- including Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Dan Coats of Indiana -- said Pritzker, whose family founded Hyatt Hotels Corp., made a positive impression in one-on-one meetings in recent days.

In a disclosure form last week, Pritzker reported assets of $400 million to $2.2 billion, excluding the value of more than $50 million in Hyatt Hotels stock. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index puts her net worth at more than $1.5 billion.

Pritzker was asked only once about her role in the 2001 collapse of suburban Chicago's Superior Bank, an institution half-owned by her family in which she was board chairman from 1991 to 1994.

Federal regulators took over the bank and the co-owners, including the Pritzker family, agreed to pay the government $460 million, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of Thrift Supervision. It was the biggest U.S. bank failure in a decade.

Pritzker said her family offered to pay those funds to depositors, telling senators that "it was the right thing for us to do . . . both for the depositors and for us as a family." Asked about some uninsured depositors who nevertheless lost substantial savings, she said she regrets the failure and learned from the experience.

On her investments, Pritzker told senators she intends to change administration of offshore trusts benefiting her and her family to the United States. In her filing last week, Pritzker said she received $54 million in consulting-fee income last year from offshore trusts in the Bahamas, administered by CIBC Trust Co.

Her spokeswoman, Susan Anderson, has acknowledged the family has other overseas trusts.

This week, Pritzker amended her disclosure filing to show $86.5 million in additional income as a consultant on hundreds of U.S.-based trusts, including family accounts, Anderson said was inadvertently omitted from the initial filing.

Republican senators, including Thune and Charles Grassley of Iowa, have said her nomination is a hypocritical move by Obama after he last year charged Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney with dodging taxes by stashing money overseas.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Follow Newsday Biz

advertisement | advertise on newsday