March 22, 2012 7:21 a.m. ET
Few people want to defeat President Barack Obama more than billionaire Harold Clark Simmons, who is willing to spend many millions of dollars in the quest. As it happens, campaign rules now give him the opportunity.
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.
“Is he worth investing into his super PAC?” Mr. Simmons asked. He rose from his leather recliner in the den and stood at a bay window overlooking swans gliding on a lake encircled by 17,000 tulips. “Does he have a chance?”
“Yes, I wouldn’t count him out,” Mr. Rove said. Mr. Simmons’s wife, Annette, who was keen on Mr. Santorum, promptly donated $1 million to his super PAC, cash badly needed for an ad blitz ahead of the Super Tuesday primaries.
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.
Unlike some big donors—including Mr. Adelson—Mr. Simmons isn’t driven by an attraction to a specific candidate or policy. His motivation is broader: to elect Republicans up and down the line in the hopes they will change the overall U.S. tax and regulatory approach.
That helps explain why the biggest chunk of his political contributions in this election cycle have gone not to individual candidates but to Mr. Rove-advised super PAC American Crossroads—its stated mission to defeat Mr. Obama and elect “majorities in both the House and the Senate that are 100% dedicated to rescuing our economy from the Obama agenda.”
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.
More broadly, he said, he and other individuals need to contribute to match the “unlimited amounts from labor unions” that benefit liberal candidates.
“I’ve got the money, so I’m spending it for the good of the country,” said Mr. Simmons, whose net worth is estimated at $10 billion, up from an estimated $4.1 billion in prerecession 2006, according to Forbes. He wears $3,000 Brioni sport coats in a nod to his wealth and Wal-Mart underwear in a sign of a frugal upbringing; his early years were spent without indoor plumbing or electricity.
Republicans consider super PAC contributions essential to offset an expected advantage by Mr. Obama’s campaign, which had $85 million in reserves at the end of February—more than all four GOP presidential candidates combined, and well more than the $7.3 million on hand for Mr. Romney.
Democrats also have financial advantages when it comes to official party organizations. The Democratic National Committee has outraised its Republican counterpart $157.7 million to $116.3 million so far, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. The two party organizations have roughly the same amount of cash on hand, but the Republican National Committee, still digging out of a deep financial hole from the 2010 election, has about twice as much debt.
Democratic committees to support House and Senate candidates also have slightly outraised their Republican counterparts so far this cycle.
In contrast, the Republican advantage lies with the super PACs. The largest Democratic-leaning super PAC, the one set up to benefit Mr. Obama, has raised just $6.3 million compared with $26.9 million by American Crossroads. (The American Crossroads figure doesn’t include money contributed to a sister organization that doesn’t have to make public its donors.)
This year’s election seems tailor-made for Mr. Simmons. New rules effectively eliminate limits for those willing to take advantage of a string of federal court decisions and regulatory changes that together allow super PACs to take unlimited donations and advocate for a candidate or party, as long as they don’t coordinate their spending with the presidential campaigns.
People who disagree with the changes say super PACs now have more influence than political parties and are less accountable. “Harold Simmons is unleashed to give as much as he wants—whether motivated to help Republicans or his business empire,” said Bill Allison, editorial director of Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan government watchdog group.
Ben LaBolt, of the Obama campaign, said: “Mr. Simmons is a self-proclaimed corporate raider who, like many others representing special interests, will spend whatever it takes to maintain the ability to write rules that benefit his own interests at the expense of middle-class Americans and to the detriment of what’s best for the nation.”
Mr. Simmons said, “You never talk about what you want when giving money.” Besides, he added, “I don’t pay attention to what other people think…There shouldn’t be restrictions of any kind on political contributions.”
He is a longtime political donor; he was fined by the Federal Election Commission for surpassing contribution limits in 1988 and 1989, which he said was inadvertent. When politicians call his office now, his secretary runs an Internet search to ensure they are “pro-business, antigovernment,” he said. He isn’t interested in such conservative social issues as abortion. “I’d probably be pro-choice,” he said. “Let people make decisions on their own bodies.”
Longtime friend and oil man T. Boone Pickens described Mr. Simmons as a man who backs up his beliefs with his bucks. “Harold isn’t doing this for attention,” the fellow Republican said. To the contrary, while mega-donors Mr. Adelson and Mr. Friess have gone on TV to tout big gifts to their candidates, Mr. Simmons rarely speaks publicly. He agreed nonetheless to talk with The Wall Street Journal on a range of subjects, including money, politics and his appetite for sweet potatoes.
The son of school teachers from tiny Golden, in east Texas, Mr. Simmons earned economics degrees—a bachelor’s degree in 1951 and a master’s degree a year later—from the University of Texas, where he also played guard on the 1951 basketball team that won the Southwest Conference. He worked as a bank examiner for the federal government and a bank loan officer.
“All the guys getting loans had high-school educations and were making more money,” Mr. Simmons said. “I had grandiose financing ideas but no one listened to me. I had no credibility as a businessman.”
To remedy that, Mr. Simmons bought his first business in 1960, a drugstore across the street from Southern Methodist University, using $5,000 in savings and a $95,000 loan. He kept buying another and another, eventually getting a pilot’s license to visit them all. In 1973, he sold his 100-store chain for $50 million. Mr. Simmons used the proceeds to buy stock of underperforming public companies, turning into a corporate raider in the 1970s and 1980s with the nickname “Ice Man.”
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. “If the Labor Department hadn’t sued, that pension would be as rich as me.”
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.
Many of these companies bear the weight of government regulatory decisions, making Mr. Simmons’s political interest more than simple patriotism. “We live with a smothering of government,” said Steven Watson, Contran’s No. 2 executive. He listed oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency, banking regulators, the Labor Department and Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as “frivolous lawsuits” brought by state attorneys general.
From a spotless desk, Mr. Simmons pores over financial statements of his far-flung empire, which has 10,000 employees world-wide. “No one understands my financials better than I do,” he said. “It’s so much fun to run my companies.”
His business success allows a lavish life. On a recent weekend, Mr. Simmons flew his jet, with two co-pilots aboard, to his Santa Barbara County estate. He also frequently flies to his Arkansas ranch—filled with 35 bears and 100 elk, as well as 250 deer and 300 wild turkeys for hunting.
This month, Mr. Simmons played golf at Augusta National and frequently plays with his stepson Andy Fleck, who works for Contran. Mr. Simmons works out at home with a Pilates instructor. He drinks Opus One wine and typically eats fish. On Sunday nights, he grills steak for dinners with his wife.
He and Annette Simmons, 76, his wife of 31 years, are major philanthropists, with their names on buildings throughout the state. “Harold doesn’t say a word. He’s so quiet, he hardly talks,” said Dallas grande dame Ruth Atshuler. “He just makes tons of money and gives it away.” At social events, caterers give Mr. Simmons a doggie bag to take home in his chauffeur-driven Bentley.
He has given $500 million to mostly Texas charities, including a new organ-transplant hospital wing after his successful kidney transplant a few years ago. His stepdaughter Amy donated a kidney to Mr. Simmons, who later adopted her. He also gave $5 million to a South African school started by his California neighbor, Ms. Winfrey. The TV host had Mrs. Simmons on her show twice—about the annual sweet-potato festival in Mr. Simmons’s hometown and Mrs. Simmons’s famous tea parties. At her 50th birthday party, Ms. Winfrey danced first with Mr. Simmons—until John Travolta cut in.
The billionaire takes day trips every week to visit obscure libraries, churches and museums around Texas. He arrives unannounced and typically turns over a big check or several hundred dollar bills. He gives $50 and $100 bills to panhandlers to and from work. If they use the money to buy liquor or drugs, he said, it’s “not my business.”
The Simmonses hobnob with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Mr. Pickens and their wives. “Harold was my first supporter and friend when there was no honeymoon in this town,” said Mr. Jones, who was reviled when he bought the team 23 years ago and fired coach Tom Landry. He and Mr. Simmons have neighboring boxes at the new Cowboy stadium.
On a recent afternoon, Mr. Simmons, donning a Dallas Cowboy Windbreaker, walked his Springer Spaniel Duke and counted the ducks in his lake, 42 on this morning. Three times he climbed the 60 stairs of the brick tower he built in his backyard to watch the Dallas sunset.
Later that day, Mr. Simmons, who goes to Luby’s Cafeteria for a $5.95 lunch or brings leftovers, met with the two of his four daughters who run his charitable foundation. Serena Simmons Connelly strongly disagrees with her father’s politics. But she recently removed her Obama bumper sticker as a concession. “Dad and I have parking spots next to each other,” she said.
Mr. Simmons was a key donor for the Swift Boat veterans’ attack ads against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, as well as the 2008 campaign ads touting ties between Mr. Obama and Bill Ayers, co-founder of the radical Weather Underground. “If we had run more ads,” he said, “we could have killed Obama.”
Mr. Simmons relishes his chance to give freely in this year’s election, particularly in conjunction with Mr. Rove, the top political adviser to former President George W. Bush. “Karl is the best political mind out there,” he said.
In early 2010, Mr. Rove gathered a handful of big Texas donors for lunch at a private club in Dallas, including Mr. Pickens, real-estate magnate Harlan Crow and Mr. Simmons. Mr. Rove explained how the fledgling group American Crossroads would work to defeat Mr. Obama and get GOP control of Congress. “All of us are responsible for the kind of country we have,” Mr. Rove recalled saying.
After Mr. Rove paused, Mr. Simmons spoke first. “I’m in,” he said. Mr. Rove said Mr. Simmons’s early nod helped give the group instant credibility.
Mr. Simmons said he relies on Mr. Rove’s advice on the prospects and positions of candidates. Aside from his contributions to presidential contenders, Mr. Simmons and his private holding company have, since 2010, donated almost $20 million to American Crossroads, which plans with its sister organization to spend as much as $300 million to defeat Democrats in the November election.
The very private Mr. Simmons and the well-known Mr. Rove have become unlikely partners, chatting by phone every couple of days. “Karl won’t waste my money,” Mr. Simmons said, noting that American Crossroads doesn’t sink money into hopeless or easily winnable contests.
“Getting control of Congress is almost as important as beating the president,” he said. “If Republicans can get control of the Senate, we can block that crap,” which he described as over-regulation of business.
Last week, Mr. Simmons considered whether to give more money to the GOP contenders, as the race narrowed to Messrs. Romney and Santorum. The billionaire with a knack for numbers sees merit in Mr. Romney’s mathematical argument that only he will win enough delegates to clinch the nomination, and he put a half million dollars behind his calculation this week.
“I have lots of money, and can give it legally now,” he said, “just never to Democrats.”
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
Harold Clark Simmons
819634 33192 1944651 79
his path of destiny = 79 = Outrage.
comprehensive summary and list of predictions for 2012:
learn numerology from numerologist to the world, Ed Peterson: