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Rich Miller: J.B. Pritzker's taxes bear watching

 
 
Posted on 12/6/2017, 1:00 AM

Last year, billionaire Democrat J.B. Pritzker derided Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for not releasing detailed income tax filings.

"The question is who his investors are, and whether there are any in China or Russia that are affecting his personal income," Pritzker said of Trump, adding that the future president was "obfuscating in order to avoid being discovered as a liar."

And then last week, Pritzker released only the first two pages of his income tax returns going back three years. Pritzker told reporters for weeks that he hadn't released the returns sooner because the task was so "complex." Um, two pages ain't "complex."

Pritzker's real income appears to come from various private trust funds. He disclosed last week that his trusts paid $25 million in state taxes and $129 million in federal taxes between 2014 and 2016.

Pritzker's personal income taxes were a tiny fraction of that amount. During the same time period, he revealed that he paid only $636,000 in state income taxes and $7.7 million in federal income taxes on his personal income.

He refused to divulge the tax returns for those trusts (which really would be "complex") because, his campaign claimed, other members of his extended family also benefit from those trusts. OK, fine. But how about divulging the names of his trusts? Tracking down these trusts is a difficult business because they're shrouded in such secrecy. Names would help.

When a politician refuses to divulge something, particularly after criticizing others for not doing so, you gotta wonder what that person is hiding.

The Pritzker family all but invented offshore trusts. "No family in the U.S. can copy the Pritzkers in using offshore entities to gain tax advantages," claimed Forbes Magazine back in 2003.

But, try as I might, I couldn't convince Pritzker's campaign to release the names of his trust funds.

So, in an attempt to pry Pritzker's information loose, I reached out to Chris Kennedy's gubernatorial campaign and asked if they would release the names of the trust funds Kennedy benefits from. They did.

Here's the list: Robert F. Kennedy 1959 Trust; The Christopher G. Kennedy 1987 Trust; The Sheila B. Kennedy 2011 Trust; the Christopher G. Kennedy 2001 Trusts for Children; Trusts U/W George Skakel and Ann Skakel; Trusts U/W Robert F. Kennedy; The Scudder Trust; Christopher G. Kennedy 1997 Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust; (street address deleted by me) Melrose Avenue Resident Trust I and Trust II and (street address deleted by me) Island Avenue Residence Trust I and Trust II.

George Skakel was Kennedy's maternal grandfather. He was from Chicago and founded the fabulously successful Great Lakes Carbon Corp. "U/W" is an acronym for "under the will of" and means it was created as part of somebody's last will and testament. The Scudder Trust appears to invest in renewable energy and environmental stuff.

That Island Avenue trust is for a 14-room summer house in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts called Brambletyde, which was recently described by Curbed.com as a "stately waterfront mansion" with "magnificent views of Nantucket Sound and just one neighbor."

President John F. Kennedy and his family stayed in the mansion during the summer of 1963. The Zillow website pegs the worth of the four-bedroom, 6.5 bathroom, 3,379 square foot house at $6.3 million. Taxes are $66K per year.

Ah, the rich.

But Kennedy's a pauper compared to Pritzker. As mentioned above, Pritzker's paternal grandfather was a pioneer in using trusts to avoid taxation. A.N. Pritzker, "took the family fortune from $250,000 in the 1920s to an estimated $2 billion at his death in 1986," according to Forbes.

But when he died in 1986, his heirs told the IRS that A.N.'s net worth was a mere $25,000. The feds didn't buy it and the Pritzker family ended up paying the government $9.5 million plus interest nine years later, Forbes reported.

J.B. Pritzker's sister, Penny, who served as President Barack Obama's Secretary of Commerce, is mentioned in the so-called "Paradise Papers," a massive ongoing research project into the uber-wealthy and mega-corporations conducted by journalists all over the world.

Ms. Pritzker transferred shares from two Bermuda companies to a company owned by trusts that benefit her children after she was confirmed for the Cabinet post. Her family's myriad offshore trusts were a big issue during her confirmation hearing.

Alas, Kennedy's decision to reveal his trust funds' names did not move the Pritzker campaign one iota closer to disclosing the names of Pritzker's trusts.

This ain't over.

• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.