Our King of the $uperPACs

Funding Rove's Attack Ads

Political Jackpot: Part-time Montecitan Harold Simmons is the top moneyman in the race to see who can shovel the most bucks into the current GOP marathon of reactionaries.

The Dallas billionaire has donated $14 million to the current presidential campaign cycle, most of it to Karl Rove’s Republican American Crossroads political fund. Simmons and four other wealthy men have donated $1 of every $4 going into conservative superPACs.

Most of the PAC dollars are going into attack ads, analysts say. “Without the flow of superPAC money, the Republican race would be over,” says Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert at Colby College in Maine.

Barney Brantingham

“SuperPACs have become a vehicle for a very small number of millionaires and billionaires who are willing to spend large sums in pursuit of their political agendas,” according to Corrado.

In the meantime, the cash infusions are fueling the endless state-by-state slugfest involving Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul.

I wanted to interview Simmons about all this while strolling the humongous, infamous greensward on his Cold Springs Road estate, but no. Simmons rarely grants interviews, even to the hometown press. He’s definitely a self-made man. After graduating from Southern Methodist University, he borrowed money to buy a drug store in 1961. In a dozen years he owned 100 of them. He went on to become a feared corporate raider.

But the No. 2 man on the big-bucks hit parade, Las Vegas casino operator Sheldon Adelson, is quite willing to talk. He gave $10 million to Winning Our Future, a PAC backing GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich. What’s more, the Venetian resort owner told Forbes magazine he’d be happy to donate another $10 million “or $100 million” to aid Gingrich.

Then maybe Simmons would dig into his reputed $9.3-billion pot of gold to match Adelson with another $100 million.

“I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections, but as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it,” Adelson said.

It’s “doable,” of course, because the U.S. Supreme Court okayed such unlimited donations two years ago.

An obscene amount of money? Observed one Santa Barbaran, “If you live in a plutocracy, why should you be shocked that rich people are trying to buy elections?”

Harold and Annette Simmons
Courtesy Photo

Just what Simmons, 81, expects to get for his $14 million is something else I’m wondering. After all, he can do just about anything in Texas he wants to do already. If you can wage a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to be allowed to dump 2.3 million cubic feet of nuclear waste in the Lone Star State, is there anything a Republican president could offer?

Well, an ambassadorship to Paris, of course, but then who’d be back in Dallas watching the store?

Years ago, rich people raised, fed, and raced horses; now it’s politicians.

Republicans reply that they are just trying to level the political playing field, in view of President Obama’s rich campaign treasury, which took in about $130 million last year. And his ability to fly around the country to reap more bucks.

Simmons is also known for his philanthropy, an impressive $20 million to an array of causes in 2010. He’s given at least $2 million to Westmont College and assisted the Unity Shoppe charity. After Simmons read in The Santa Barbara Independent that Casa Esperanza homeless shelter in Santa Barbara needed money to stay open two years ago, he sent a check for $200,000 and then, later, another for $20,000.

On the other hand, he chipped in $3 million to the shameful 2004 Swift Boat smear against presidential candidate John Kerry and got into trouble for arrogantly continuing to water his huge lawn during the 1989-90 drought while everyone else was cutting back.

In the 1990s a family-feud soap opera erupted when two daughters sued him for playing fast and loose with the trusts he’d set up for their old age. He also was fined for campaign-contribution violations.

One daughter claimed that Simmons paid her $1,000 for each blank political donation form she signed. He ended up giving each daughter $50 million. Perhaps a family trip to Paris would soothe the wounds.

Anonymous: In 1998, Sue and I prowled the Rhine, walking in the footsteps of the cloistered 12th-century Benedictine nun, mystic, author, and composer Hildegard of Bingen. Her music will be among the compositions sung by the Anonymous 4 on Monday, March 5, at 8 p.m. at the Lobero Theatre, part of CAMA’s Master­series.


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