‘Wall Street Journal’ Snags Interview with Big Spender Harold Simmons

The press shy billionaire calls Karl Rove his "personal political muse" and reveals why he's bent on defeating President Barack Obama.
Fri March 23, 2012 2:48 am
AP Photo | Dallas Morning News

Notoriously press shy billionaire Harold Clark Simmons usually lets his money talk for him. But the Wall Street Journal ’s Monica Langley scored a rare interview with the self-made chemical and metals magnate.

Simmons, who lives in Dallas, has emerged as the country’s biggest political donor in this election cycle. He has already handed out $18 million and plans to hand out $18 million more. “I’ve got the money, so I’m spending it for the good of the country,” Simmons explained of his largesse.

The eighty-year-old considers Republican strategist Karl Rove his “personal political muse” and has given $20 million to Rove’s super PAC, American Crossroads. This election cycle Simmons has doled out large checks to super PACs supporting Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.

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.

Langley characterized Simmons, who has an estimated net worth of $10 billion, as a Texas gentleman, but one with a cold and calculating side. “He’s a man of few words and he doesn’t like to use them very much,” Langley said in a video about her interview with Simmons.

Simmons’ quick draw with the checkbook has gotten him into trouble in the past. “[H]e was fined by the Federal Election Commission for surpassing contribution limits in 1988 and 1989, which he said was inadvertent,” Langley writes. “I have lots of money, and can give it legally now,” he said, “just never to Democrats.”

Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, did not mince words over the campaign’s opinion of Simmons:

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.

Readers also learn a bit about Simmons’ personal style: “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,” Langley writes. Simmons grew up in Golden, in East Texas, and his parents were both school teachers.

Simmons’ politics are “pro-business, antigovernment,” but he lacks interest in the abortion debate and other issues important to social conservatives. “I’d probably be pro-choice. Let people make decisions on their own bodies,” he said.

Alexandra Burns praised the story at Politico, pointing out that:

The Journal story is a good illustration of how the post-Citizens United campaign finance regime has changed the balance of power in the Republican coalition. Wealthy, business- and regulation-oriented conservatives like Simmons have always been influential. But in a time of unrestricted political contributions, a seven-figure donor who openly labels himself “pro-choice” is even more disproportionately powerful, compared to even most high-profile social conservative activists.

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