He spread his millions far and wide, to good causes and bad, but Montecitans remember corporate raider Harold Simmons for his behavior during the water shortage of the 1980s.
While the rest of the South Coast was parched and under strict conservation rules, Simmons was willing to spend $25,500 in Montecito Water District surcharges so he could dump almost 10 million gallons in one year on his 23-acre estate. After much wrangling, he agreed to drill his own well.
Simmons, who died Saturday in Dallas at 82, parlayed a single drug store into a $10 billion fortune, becoming the nation’s 40th wealthiest person, according to Forbes. The part-time Montecito philanthropist donated an estimated $300 million over the years to worthy causes like schools and medical institutions, but he also helped bankroll the sleazy “Swift Boat” attack on presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 and famously called President Obama “the most dangerous man in America” because of what Simmons considered his anti-business policies.
He gave tens of millions to Texas organizations, including charities, medical groups, and civic groups, and spent $25 million in the 2012 presidential election alone. He also donated to Santa Barbara nonprofits, and he and his wife, Annette, were well known in Montecito social circles.
Although a staunch conservative, Simmons also donated to such groups as Planned Parenthood and recently gave $600,000 to the Dallas Resource Center, which serves the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.
He had a mixed reputation in Texas. Republican politicians like Gov. Rick Perry loved him, and his donations. D Magazine in Dallas called him an “evil genius,” among other things, in a 2010 article criticizing him for a questionable deal involving burying hazardous waste in the desert. In 1998, two of his daughters accused him of misusing their trust fund as a personal ATM. After a nine-week trial, the jury found that he had violated his fiduciary duties. He paid each of the daughters $50 million as a settlement.