Texas Billionaire Harold Simmons Doles Out Election's Biggest Checks to Republicans

By MONICA LANGLEY 

Wall Street Journal (Escerpt), March 23, 2012

... Watching a TV news report that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum was rising in polls last month, Mr. Simmons wondered about the prospects of the former Pennsylvania senator. He called his personal political muse, Republican strategist Karl Rove. ...

Harold Simmons, who has donated more than $18 million to conservative super PACs to beat President Obama, aims to double that amount by November.

The 80-year-old Texan, who heads Contran Corp., a chemicals and metals conglomerate, gave hefty donations to the super PACs supporting other GOP candidates during similar moments in the spotlight: Rick Perry's optimistic entry into the race last summer, and after the debate-driven surge of Newt Gingrich. Mr. Simmons has so far given $800,000—including $500,000 this week—to super PACs backing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who won the Illinois primary Tuesday and contends no rival can catch him in the GOP delegate race.

It isn't particularly important which man wins the nomination, for Mr. Simmons simply wants to defeat the president and reduce the reach of government. "Any of these Republicans would make a better president than that socialist, Obama," said Mr. Simmons during two days of rare interviews at his Dallas home and office. "Obama is the most dangerous American alive…because he would eliminate free enterprise in this country."

The tall, lanky, soft-spoken industrialist has given more than $18 million to conservative super PACs so far, making him the 2012 election's single largest contributor—ahead of billionaires Sheldon Adelson, Mr. Gingrich's financial patron, and Foster Friess, Mr. Santorum's biggest donor.

Sipping lemonade iced tea made with lemons grown on his California estate east of Santa Barbara—next door to Oprah Winfrey's place in Montecito—Mr. Simmons said he planned to spend $36 million before the November election. ...

Mr. Simmons has some businesses that are heavily regulated, which helps explains his interest in deregulation. He also pushes for tort reform. One of his companies, NL Industries Inc., has fought lawsuits from school districts and businesses over lead paint that it made before Mr. Simmons acquired it. ...

Mr. Simmons said his political activism was sparked in 1983, when the Labor Department accused him of mishandling pension fund assets. A federal judge found he invested an excessive portion of the pension in a takeover target, Amalgamated Sugar Co. The judge awarded no cash damages because the fund earned 50% on its investment. Mr. Simmons agreed not to use pension funds in takeover bids for 10 years, according to a consent decree that settled the case.

"That's when I started contributing to politicians with free-market and antiregulation agendas," he said.  …

His corporate empire, under the Contran holding company, includes large stakes in multinational conglomerates NL Industries, Titanium Metals Corp., Valhi Inc., Kronos Worldwide Inc. and Keystone Consolidated Industries Inc. These diverse interests include the heavily regulated waste-control and nuclear-waste disposal businesses, as well as some of the world's biggest manufacturers of chemicals, components and titanium for military and commercial aircraft. ...

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