When those of us following the 2012 election cycle closely think of wealthy donors investing heavily in their preferred candidates, a couple of names immediately come to mind. Under the “Every Republican Gets A Gazillionaire” framework, we know, for example, that Sheldon Adelson has helped bankroll Newt Gingrich, while Foster Friess backs Rick Santorum.
But there’s another name that’s not as well known, but who’s arguably more interesting: Harold Simmons. Though estimates vary slightly, the Texas billionaire has reportedly donated upwards of $18 million in this election – and counting – with most of the money going to Karl Rove’s attack operation, American Crossroads, and Mitt Romney’s super PAC.
By all accounts, Simmons is one of the most generous, if not the most generous, Republican billionaire in 2012. But even more interesting is why, exactly, he’s investing so heavily in the elections, and what he hopes to receive in return.
Mariah Blake has an interesting report this week on the 80-year-old Simmons’ nuclear waste dump in Texas, which may be a key motivation behind his generosity.
Simmons has a history of giving far and wide to grease the wheels for his business ventures – particularly his nuclear waste repository. And a raft of changes in the pipeline at federal agencies could determine whether the site is eligible for billions of dollars in new contracts.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for example, is considering allowing depleted uranium (more than a half-million tons of which are languishing at sites around the country) to be discarded in shallow land burial sites, like [Simmons’ Waste Control Specialists’], even though the National Research Council and some independent scientists suggest it’s better suited to more secure repositories. Similarly, the Department of Energy is weighing options for disposing of what is known as “greater-than-class-C” waste, the most radioactive low-level nuclear debris. In the past, it was generally considered too dangerous to dump in shallow land sites, but that route is now on the table.
These deliberations, which began under the Bush administration, aren’t meant to be political. But progress under Obama has been halting, particularly on the NRC front. In fact, in January the NRC voted to abandon the depleted uranium rulemaking track it had been on since 2008 – a track favorable to WCS – and go back to the drawing board.
There are also nuclear-waste disposal contracts available through the Department of Energy, and as Blake noted, Simmons “may be betting that having Republicans in office – particularly ones whose victory he bankrolled – could tilt the odds in his favor, as it has in the past.”
This isn’t to say Simmons is apolitical, donating simply with his business interests in mind. The far-right Texan makes no secret of his disgust for President Obama, whom Simmon recently described as “the most dangerous American alive” – and no doubt backs Republicans because he agrees with them.
But as Bloomberg’s Julie Bykowicz reported, Simmons has also “a West Texas dump for radioactive waste that is bigger than 1,000 football fields and he can’t fill it,” so he’s “spending money in a new way that could improve his business prospects,” investing in Republicans who “advocate easing regulations on the nuclear industry.”