Harold Simmons, Exemplar of a New Class of Political Mega-Donor, Is Dead

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Harold Simmons, 82, who in the last presidential election became the most prolific political donor in the country, died Saturday at the Baylor University Medical Center. His legacy is complicated -- at once toxic, literally and figuratively, and marked by laudable philanthropy.

He grew up in Golden, Texas, the son of school teachers. After graduating from the University of Texas, he became a banker who brokered deals on the side, if not toeing the edge of the law, then at least testing the limits of morality. A single drug store was his first acquisition of many.

Simmons wasn't politically active until his purchase of Amalgamated Sugar. With money from the pension fund of a hardware chain he owned, he arranged its buyout. But the Department of Justice balked, calling the move risky. So, Simmons simply bought the company with his own money and was proven right -- it made him a billionaire. He had fancied himself a champion of the free market ever since. Except, that is, when the free market ran afoul of his interests. He lobbied diligently for years to maintain high tariffs on imported sugar.

When Karl Rove was looking for Texas fat cats to bankroll the Republican revolution in an historically Democratic state, he found a receptive ear and a willing fount of cash in Simmons. Governors George Bush and Rick Perry came to rely on him as their biggest donor and were the recipients of his millions. A Simmons lobbyist eventually became Bush's interior secretary.

After a single meeting with the organizer of the Swift Boat campaign against presidential candidate John Kerry, Simmons gave him $2 million. Kerry lost, though the allegations against his service in Vietnam were later discredited entirely.

A Dallas investor and acquaintance once told Texas Monthly that Simmons cared for nothing so much as money. He uncharitably likened Simmons to "the guy in college whose objective is to sleep with every woman he can find."

He once fought his two eldest daughters in court over a trust that held their inheritance and much of Simmons' money. He refused at trial to agree to a settlement that gave him everything he wanted and awarded his daughters what amounted to a pittance in the grand scheme of his vast wealth. They later settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

He must have lamented the pesky limitations to political giving, because he was investigated and fined by the SEC for making more contributions than the law allowed. He admitted to forging his daughters' names after he ran up against the limit. But whatever he paid was a small investment that promised far larger returns.

In 1995, he was approached by Kent Hance, a former congressman and lobbyist, with an investment opportunity: Waste Control Specialists, a company that handled hazardous waste. With Simmons' resources, they might have a shot at cracking into the radioactive market, where they could make billions. Simmons bought up nearly all of the shares and went to work, plying the connections he'd spent years accumulating. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality first opposed the idea, but relented under pressure from Governor Bush's office. When WCS encountered resistance from within the Clinton administration, Simmons called up the beneficiaries of his largesse: Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison, Phil Gramm and Richard Shelby. They threatened to hold up the appointment of the Department of Energy's new general counsel if it didn't back off.

Finally, in 2006, a state law was passed that allowed private companies to handle radioactive waste. A second law was enacted that permitted only one company to do so: Simmons'. This was all above the protest of TCEQ staffers, who found that the Ogallala Aquifer -- the largest underground reservoir in the country -- was within 14 feet of the disposal site, and could become contaminated if it rose during a hard rain.

"It was not more than a week before I first heard from one of my colleagues, 'Do you know who owns WCS? You know they're going to get their license, no matter what,'" a TCEQ staffer told The New Republic. "I had no idea who Harold Simmons was. And I was informed that Harold Simmons was a main campaign contributor to the governor -- the current governor, Perry -- and had been a main contributor to Bush. It was just the assumption from the beginning: This will be approved."

A subsequent bill now allows the WCS facility in Andrews to accept waste from some 36 states. As usual, this investment was a winner for Simmons. WCS stock has soared, and Simmons' net worth doubled. At last count, he was worth nearly $10 billion.

He put it to use after the U.S. Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision opened the floodgates and finally unshackled his political giving. Simmons spent mightily in the 2008 and 2012 elections, referring to President Barack Obama as a "socialist" and the gravest threat to free enterprise and the country. In this last presidential election, he became the largest single contributor in the country.

And yet, he was pro-choice. His philanthropic foundation, run by his Democratic daughters, funds liberal causes like legal services for immigrants, Planned Parenthood and the Resource Center, which supports those affected with HIV and the gay community.

But in the midst of righteous spending, he has also been at the forefront of a political movement to erode taxes in this state. Shortfalls have prompted the Legislature to make massive cuts to schools and other social services relied on by the state's numerous poor. So, how to reconcile this with the man whose name, Charles Homans notes in this TNR piece, you'll find affixed to any number of charitable endeavors?

"Simmons and the other Texas billionaires are often defended on the grounds of their philanthropy -- and it's true that there are few hospitals in the Dallas area without a wing named after Simmons. But there is a Gilded Age paternalism to these projects in a state that is otherwise mired in policy dilemmas wrought by the politicians whom the philanthropists have financed -- a sense that the only new public goods that Texans are allowed to have are the ones the billionaires see fit to give them."
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93 comments
clifwalters
clifwalters

We lost a good one last weekend.  He created more jobs, careers, wealth, tax revenues, charitable giving and good public policy than all his sorry critics combined. God Bless and Rest In Peace.  

clifwalters
clifwalters

We lost a great one last weekend.  None of his sorry critics could hold a ten foot pole up to Simmons.  Rest in Peace.

brewer_anthony
brewer_anthony

I have met him several times and used to have some respect for him -- until I found out he supported amnesty for illegal aliens. But, that's how it usually goes these days: the richer and more "conservative" they are, the more eager they are to sell out their nation.

roo_ster
roo_ster

Ankles biters gotta bite.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Simmons, not once but several times.


The first time we met, I introduced myself and we ended up talking for about fifteen minutes.


When I saw him again about six months later, he picked up the conversation again right where we left.


I saw him again after his brother had died.  He looked as if he had lost his best friend.


Say what you will about him but I believe that he was gifted and a genius.

ruddski
ruddski

Not to beat the poor horse again, but the folks at powerline blog, particularly John Hindraker, might take exception to your "discredited entirely" statement, but they're pretty partisan and do a lot of research.

A lot of my friends and acquaintances who served in Vietnam and later were thankful for for Kerry's defeat, he was kinda loathed by a small subset of grudge-holders who were fine with Simmons' contributions.

tdkisok
tdkisok

My God, he looks like the real life Montgomery "MontyBurns!   


mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@ruddski

"pretty partisan and do a lot of research"

thanks for the laugh.

here's the indisputable facts: Kerry enlisted in 1966, and served our country. Kerry was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Heart medals for his service. Kerry's Commanding Officer and the US Commander of Naval forces, Admiral Zumwalt, commended Kerry for his actions.

Those that chose to change the story for their selfish political purposes dishonor themselves, not Kerry. It is the pinnacle of hypocrisy for those who attacked Kerry's record to wrap themselves in the mantle of being patriots. Those, such as Simmons, who fueled the character attacks should be condemned for perverting the political discourse.

there is a reason the phrase "swift-boating" is a prejorative defined as "organized smearing"

JackJett
JackJett

@ruddski Far be it for you to ever beat a poor horse when there are so many dead ones to continue to beat over and over....and over.......and over...

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@pak152Perhaps pak152 will be kind enough to point out the errors in it.

tdkisok
tdkisok

@mavdog


There were plenty of former Vets who were pissed off about how the Swift Boat movement tried to discredit Kerry's medals because it meant that the ones they earned could also be discredited. 

ruddski
ruddski

Thanks for the refresher, but it was three elections ago. If you need argument, visit powerline - "discredited entirely" simply isn't accurate according to them.

Point is, a lot of people don't consider Simmons' financial contributions against Kerry a bad thing, even if SBVT was as described.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bmarvel @pak152  


Written like a DMN Editorial.  Ten yards of slam with six inches of bewilderment to cover their tracks.

Americans are flooding into Texas like the Grapes of Wrath because of guys like him.  The "error" is the prism which the writer of this piece is looking through.  It allows the hitter to ignore the vast ocean of reality surrounding the island upon which he is affixed.

Night is day and no one can tell me different.

http://www.haroldsimmonsfoundation.org/

brantley.hargrove1
brantley.hargrove1

@ruddski I see what you did there. You've been playing the Vonnegut-style absurdist in this discussion. A man whose military service, despite a well-funded campaign of lies, has since been proven unimpeachable, may still theoretically be impeached because those who told the lies have stuck to their guns. Well played, sir.

tdkisok
tdkisok

@ruddski 


Yeah, like Ted Cruz blaming the Gov't shutdown on the Democrats. I'm with you on that.


ruddski
ruddski

Not enough. So it goes.

As for stupid people believing bullshit, funny you should mention that with the lying-their-asses-off stories being in the news so much lately.

tdkisok
tdkisok

@ruddski 


Hey, those who were with Kerry in combat supported him. I'll take their word for it. There are also plenty of stupid Vets who believed the Swift Boat crap.

ruddski
ruddski

I'm sure there were veterans who worshipped Kerry, but not quite enough of them, and he lost to the man who gave 50,000,000 people a shot at self-governance. So it goes.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@ruddski

if you honestly "defer to his peers", then you would agree with the vast majority who expressed strong criticism of the swift boat for veterans org.

but as you continue to defend those few who lowered themselves in this affair, I don't anticipate must in the way of honesty..

ruddski
ruddski

I defer to his peers, that's it. Sorry. They'd want to question his honor, that's their call. Some considered Kerry less than honorable and Said so.

Maybe he went wind boarding, or skiing, or whatever it is filthy rich pols do when not sucking the bone marrow of the people and all that.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@ruddski

you refer to "political opposition", yet what is being discussed is far from that animal. "political opposition" is certainly NOT questioning a person's honors that were earned in service to our country, attacking the written record of decades previous, all for the purpose of directing the discussion away from the actual political issues.

those veterans you mention have the right to disagree with kerry, to express their opposition to his politics or to his personal choices, but their attempt to rewrite the story of his military service for their own self interest is absurd.

you must have missed the news, kerry wasn't sent "back to his yacht". he's been very busy lately...

ruddski
ruddski

I don't consider political opposition a bad thing, and if a group of peers want to go after Kerry for whatever reason, I don't see that as a bad thing. Especially in the age of a majority-democrat press.

I don't know what's so absurd about respecting the veterans who seemingly found Kerry.... Lacking. An awful lot if them did, and so did enough Americans to send him back to mama Theresa's bosom, and his yacht.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@ruddski

the bottom ine in your opinion is that if "a lot of people don't consider" something "a bad thing" then the case is made it can't be a bad thing?

good grief, it doesn't get any more absurd and ridiculous than that. congrats!

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@ruddski 


Brevity is the soul of wit.


I think you were an instructor at the Top Gun school of blogging.


you flew in combat.

clifwalters
clifwalters

@bmarvel@clifwalters Your churlish defense of the hit piece led me to believe that you were the author. There is nothing lower than trashing someone through their obituary.



Simmons gave a lot of stock to his daughter and wife, who then tried to wrestle a company away from him. He won a come from behind street fight and rewarded his shareholders and pension plan (employees) handsomely. There are complicated issues which the author failed to investigate. But, like you, he simply lashed out like a child after barely scratching the surface.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@clifwalters@bmarvel"Simmons is characterized as a "banker" in your hit piece,.."

It' not my piece,no more than I had anything to do with disallowing your post.


I am not a socialist. I'm not even particularly left wing.


Is it some kind of rule that political partisans cannot read, or when they can read, cannot think?

clifwalters
clifwalters

@bmarvel@clifwalters Now that one of my posts has been displayed I will rise to the bait.  Among the many inaccuracies in this smear article, you said that the Swift Boaters were "entirely discredited".  Nothing could be further from the truth as recounted in this article:  http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/05/media_still_lying_about_the_sw.html


Simmons is characterized as a "banker" in your hit piece, as if the businesses he bought and built managed themselves and money was mandated by the politicians.  He clearly was a brilliant business manager, building Skillerns drug stores; NL Industries; and Vlahi (among many others) into major organizations creating literally thousands of high paying jobs and producing billions of revenues and value solving problems in many diverse industries (including the hated energy industry). 


But I understand that many socialists don't understand how value creation works, thinking that fortunes are simply stolen or inherited.   If ignorance cannot thus be forgiven, then this shameful "obituary" can serve as an object lesson telling us much more about the character of the writer than the target of his enmity.


bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@clifwalters No idea what you're talking about, clifwalters. Neither pk152 nor myself have any control whatsoever over whether your comments or anyone else's are posted or not. 

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@mavdogGave you a thumbs up, mavdog, though I gotta say your prose was not as...chewable...as dingo's.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@dingo

gee, you sure went into a very in depth, detailed discussion of how one might approach and complete a statistical analysis of how and where the american public donated money.

you did much more in your semi-brief post then the group that put together the chart. they merely took public IRS data of charitable deductions by state, determined the median, and put the pretty graphs together.

like I said before, simple is as simple does. they were very simple. incredibly so. consequently their work is about as superficial and meaningless as it could be.

thanks for your efforts!

dingo
dingo

@mavdog  

The author summarized a survey that somehow determined discretionary income. You have no idea how the survey was performed unless you somehow pulled it out of your ass.. 


Any occlusions on my part do not eliminate an entire basic field of mathematics. 

There are applicable extrapolations based upon certain parameters: blues reds, charitable amounts, incomes, costs of livings, sample size vs entire population. These necessary data points might or might not have been collected as part of the survey. I have no proof that they weren't. From those one can arrive at a confidence percentage that reds are on average more philanthropic than blues. Or corollarily, one can deduce a percentage range of philanthropic reds vs blues that one can be a % certain about. Example: 95% certain that reds are 48% to 57% more philanthropic than blues.


Here's a bit for starters:

https://www.khanacademy.org/math/probability/statistics-inferential/confidence-intervals/v/confidence-interval-example

 

You unequivocally stated  that ascertaining estimates in this manner is fallacious. In doing so you are providing data towards a confidence interval regarding your own capacities.


Happy New Year!



bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@holmantxThat sounds like something printed on a slip inside a fortune cookie. Are we supposed to guess what you mean? Or have you run out of meaning?

I'm not trying to be clever. I honestly have no idea what argument you're trying to make. Are you offended that I consider Simmons neither the antiChrist nor God's gift to Texas? And that I consider those who take one or the other position to be fools? Very well, then, be offended. Now, Ask me about something that matters.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

I am but an interdictor This is a place to sharpened your sword.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@holmantx@bmarvelWhat ARE you trying to say, holmantx? Or are you just trying to simulate wisdom by seeming enigmatic?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bmarvel @holmantx 

Not that am asking for a soliloquy, but lets face it.

You fall squarely in the middle unless you see gain.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@holmantxI do take a stand, holmantx, or do you not read my comments? Well, you must because you always answer them. I presume you must mean "take MY stand."

By the way, surely you're not so ignorant as to assume that the middle -- a term I never use, by the way; I prefer nonalligned -- refers to folks whose views are somehow midway between the Right and the Left (whatever that could possibly be)? You really DO need to catch upon your reading, holmantx. And i don't mean the DMN. It's bigger political world than you imagine. 


holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bmarvel @holmantx 

No doubt it would satisfy the enabler.  Having said that, there are bigger fish to kill.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog @holmantx 

Too complicated.  Have you read what the Restaurant Association is asking of government, o are they too greedy basterds who must be regulated?


holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@bmarvel @holmantx 


there is no honor in the middle.

I read you blurb before you obliterated it.

or I have access to the NSA records.

You would be a good candidate for the DMN Ed Board.

take a stand man or retire from the battlefield.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

it's not a new tax holman, there's been a tax on liquor in bars for a long time.

now instead of the business paying the tax when they buy the liquor from the distributor, the consumer pays the tax at POS.

should help the bottom line of the bar. hooray for profitable bars!

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@holmantxYour usual clear job of communication, holmantx. Why not just write "I'm a right-wing True Believer and I didn't like the piece."? 



holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog Hurry!  Tomorrow a new tax on mixed drinks sets in.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog @holmantx Less government?


Besides.  We got oil, cotton and slaves.


Yours is but the central area of banks that benefit from the South.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

maybe dingo can do "the applicable extrapolations and confidence intervals afforded by basic Bayesian inference to the data" and see if my assumption is valid...

I'll have a couple of more cocktails and wait to see if he does ;)

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

just a guess mind you, no look at data but...

I'd be willing to bet that the blue states combined annual GDP and income is greater than the red states combined annual GDP and income.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog 


Well then look at it as a team effort.


Red states are good at makin' it and the Blue states are good at spendin' it.


Like, REAL good at spending it.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@dingo

odd, there isn't any "applicable extrapolations" applied. the author simply took total $ and applied that to the states on an either/or criteria. simple is as simple does.

the fact that you didn't "see" this says a lot...

dingo
dingo

@mavdog@holmantx  

The only fallacious aspect I see here is your total disavowal of the applicable extrapolations and confidence intervals afforded by basic Bayesian inference to the data provided by the red/blue state link. 

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

I call bullshit on your assertions.

who on the list you link "are also some of the biggest backers of the Tea Party"?? Lauder or Zuckerberg? Bllomberg? Perelman? Broad? nope.

the link to "red states are signifigantly more philanthropic" is fallacious, it looks at per cent of discretionay income not the amount of one's giving. second it does not look at WHO is giving the donations, but rather WHERE the money comes fom by the state they reside. Totally impossible to say from that list if they are conservative, liberal or....

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@brantley.hargrove1 @holmantx @bmarvel @pak152  


And the fact is, you rarely get to editorialize in this day and age without some degree of moral outrage.

Some of the biggest arts donors in the USA are also some of the biggest backers of the Tea Party, and red states are significantly more philanthropic than blue ones.

And almost all of the major endowments illuminated by PBS came from the same bolt of cloth as Simmons.  And administrated by the heirs who must suffer the guilt and agony of their "morally compromised" forebearers.

He was a great man.

And Jefferson was a slave holder who impregnated his slaves, right?

brantley.hargrove1
brantley.hargrove1

@holmantx @bmarvel @pak152 Where's the slam and hit? This is all stuff he actually did. Should I gloss over it because he's dead? Like I say at the outset, it's complicated. I never claimed his life was devoid of good deeds. The fact is, you rarely get as rich as Simmons without some degree of moral compromise.

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