No. 3 Perry donor clamors for corporate welfare check
With the legislature’s atomic clock ticking on a bill to let profiteers dump the nation’s nuclear waste in West Texas, it’s time for a background check on the man who would be king of Texas nuclear dumping.
Billionaire corporate raider Harold Simmons controls Contran and Valhi, holding companies that run an empire of sugar, manufacturing, metal, chemical, oil, real estate, insurance and other interests.
Simmons built part of this empire through hostile takeovers like the one he is now pursuing against third-generation managers of West Bend, a Wisconsin manufacturing firm.1 Simmons’ companies have been charged with raiding their workers’ pension funds to finance such takeover deals.2
With 2000 sales exceeding $1 billion, Simmons’ empire depends on friendly government policies. Taxpayers subsidize Simmons’ sugar prices, bankroll military purchases of his aerospace metals and ultimately pay for the limits that government officials place on his tax and pollution liabilities.3 Then-President Clinton used the line-item veto to narrowly avert a 1997 loophole for Simmons to dodge $80 million in taxes.4
Simmons’ NL Industries faces a slew of toxic lawsuits for the lead that it added to paint and spewed on a Dallas neighborhood.5 Regulators have named NL as a “potentially responsible party” for many toxic Superfund sites, including Dallas, Waller and Hardin Counties sites.6
Simmons bought Waste Control Specialists in 1995, the year it lost a fight to get the state to let it ship low-level radioactive waste to its West Texas dump. Back then, Rep. Robert Talton accused company lobbyists Kent Hance and John Birdwell of trying to bribe him with a job and $60,000 in donations, charges the lobbyists denied.7
“A key element of Waste Control Specialists’ long-term strategy,” Valhi tells investors, “includes obtaining additional regulatory authorizations for the disposal of a broad range of low-level and mixed radioactive wastes.”8
Before Simmons arrived, rival Envirocare blocked Waste Control from getting this authority, thereby preventing competition with its dump in Utah. Simmons’ clout has altered the political landscape.
Then-Governor Bush’s Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission halted plans to build a state-run nuclear dump in 1998 (Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns received $90,000 from Simmons). In January 2001, Waste Control settled the lawsuit that it had filed against Envirocare over alleged uncompetitive practices. Under the confidential terms of that deal, Envirocare apparently agreed to leave Texas to Waste Control.
With no competitors in sight, Waste Control is escalating its demands. Bills by Sen. Robert Duncan and Rep. Warren Chisum would allow Waste Control to get a 20-year license to bury the nation’s low-level radioactive waste in West Texas.9 Once the license ends, the state inherits this waste for 100,000 years. In other words, Simmons gets the profits and Texas gets the nuclear liabilities.
It takes Simmons-grade clout to get lawmakers to seriously consider such a scheme.
Contran and Valhi contributed $825,000 in unregulated corporate soft money over the last two election cycles—all to the GOP.
Simmons is a recidivist violator of federal election laws. In 1993, the Federal Election Commission fined him $19,800 for exceeding federal contributions limits. Simmons admitted doing it again in 1997.10
Two of his daughters alleged in a 1997 lawsuit that their father put their names on hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions. Simmons said he was “saddened” that his kids “apparently don’t understand the value of political activity.”
NL Industries CEO J. Landis Martin characterizes contributions as investments that pay off “hundreds of times over.”11
Simmons is a Texas king maker. He, his top lieutenants and their PACs spent $605,773 here in the past two election cycles, with Simmons and Kent Hance supplying 97 percent of this money.
An ex-congressman and Texas Railroad Commissioner, Hance lobbies for Waste Control. A Waste Control sister company, TecSafe, lists Hance (who gave $51,000 to Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns) among its officers and directors. TecSafe operates a waste research facility at Waste Control’s dump.
Simmons personally gave more than $400,000 to state candidates in this period, ranking as Governor Rick Perry’s third largest individual donor. Republican candidates received 88 percent of Simmons’ money directly. Simmons split the remainder between Democrats and Texans for Lawsuit Reform’s PAC.
This PAC raised $1.5 million in the 2000 cycle, giving 79 percent of it to GOP candidates. Texans for Lawsuit Reform—which fights to limit the legal responsibility of businesses that harm consumers, workers or communities—received 81 percent of its PAC money from Simmons and 23 other families that made fortunes in such dangerous, litigious industries as toxic chemicals, oil and construction.
By letting Simmons make billions of dollars and sticking taxpayers with the liabilities, the current radioactive waste legislation would be the ultimate “tort reform.”
Political Contributions By Waste Control Specialists, 1997-2000 *Includes $6,200 from Kent Hance Special Fund.
Contributors Waste-Control Link Amount Harold Simmons Valhi chair/CEO $427,350 Kent R. Hance* WCS lobbyist; TecSafe ofcr. $151,023 Steven L. Watson Valhi president $8,000 William Lindquist Valhi/Contran Sr. VP $3,000 Bobby D. O'Brien Valhi/Contran VP/treasurer $2,500 Eric Peus Waste Control CEO $1,900 Waste Control $1,250 Contran Corp. PAC $500 Glenn R. Simmons Valhi/Contran vice chair $250 TOTAL: $605,773
*Table lists recipients' current titles
Top Recipients* Amount Gov. Rick Perry $209,900 Pres. George W. Bush $66,000 A.G. John Cornyn $41,250 Ex-RRC Barry Williamson $27,000 Texans for Lawsuit Reform $25,000 Speaker Pete Laney $20,000 Justice Greg Abbott $16,000 Land Com. David Dewhurst $16,000 RRC Tony Garza $16,000 Compt. Carole Rylander $13,050 Sen. Todd Staples $12,500 Sen. Buster Brown $10,000 Justice Craig Enoch $10,000
Two utilities that want to dump radioactive waste in Andrews County are even bigger political donors. Waste Control reported in 1999 that it “signed long term contracts with some of the major nuclear utilities in the Texas Compact, with very competitive pricing for disposal of [low-level radioactive waste] and mixed waste.” The PACs of two such utilities spent $2.7 million to influence state politicians in the last two elections. Reliant Energy PACs spent $1.4 million; Texas Utilities PACs spent $1.3 million.
The Simmons lobby
On top of the contributions that they made to Texas politicians, radioactive waste interests have spent heavily to lobby these politicians. Waste Control and Valhi alone reported paying 16 lobbyists up to $640,000 by the end of 2000. Competitor Envirocare paid seven lobbyists up to $410,000—just before it settled the lawsuit with Waste Control.
Texas “compact” utilities that want to dump radioactive waste in Andrews County retain even bigger stables of lobbyists. Three of them—Reliant Energy, Texas Utilities and Vermont Nuclear Power—paid 88 lobbyists up $3.5 million to push their interests in Texas in 2000.
Waste Control regards its political spending as a crucial business expense.
“Governmental policies are by their nature subject to change and the exercise of broad discretion by regulators, and it is possible that Waste Control Specialists’ ability to obtain any desired applicable permits on a timely basis…could in the future be impaired,” the company tells investors. “Waste Control Specialists will attempt to monitor and anticipate regulatory, political and legal developments which affect the waste management industry.”12
Apparently, Harold Simmons expects to fatten up lobbyists and politicians for some time to come.•
All lobbyists with WCS except Valhi's Harold Green.
Harold Simmons' 2000 Lobby Lobbyist Max. Value Min. Value Lisa K. Anderson $100,000 $50,000 James Mathis $100,000 $50,000 Gordon Johnson $100,000 $50,000 Robert Johnson Jr. $100,000 $50,000 Andrew Barrett $50,000 $25,000 Lisa K. Ivie Miller $25,000 $10,000 Reggie Bashur $25,000 $10,000 Harold B. Green $25,000 $10,000 Kent R. Hance $25,000 $10,000 Michael Woodward $25,000 $10,000 Jay B. Stewart $25,000 $10,000 Hilary B. Doran Jr. $10,000 $0 Robert D. Culley $10,000 $0 Kraege Polan $10,000 $0 James "Bill" Haley $10,000 $0 Mignon McGarry $0 $0 TOTAL: $640,000 $285,000
Texas Nuclear Lobby Contracts, 2000 Nuclear Dump Interest Max. Value Min. Value Amount Lobbyists Reliant Energy $1,975,000 $945,000 41 Texas Utilities (TXU) $1,465,000 $630,000 46 Waste Control Specialists $615,000 $275,000 15 Envirocare $410,000 $220,000 7 Andrews Co. Indust. Fdn. $50,000 $25,000 1 Valhi, Inc. $25,000 $10,000 1 VT Yankee Nuclear Power $10,000 $0 1 TOTAL: $4,550,000 $2,105,000 112
1 “Putting ‘hostile’ back into takeover,” New York Times February 25, 2001; “Gehl’s Texas thorn makes stab at election,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 15, 2001.
2 “Contran pension plans subject of U.S. lawsuit,” Washington Post, May 12, 1983; “Now the UAW’s after Harold Simmons,” Industry Week, October 3, 1983.
3 “Texas firms, individuals gave GOP $7.5 million,” Dallas Morning News, August 9, 1996.
4 “Texas billionaire feels sting of inaugural line item veto,” New York Times, August 12, 1997.
5 “Residents suing over pollution,” Dallas Morning News, November 8, 1998; Valhi’s quarterly report filed March 27, 2000.
6 Valhi’s quarterly report filed March 27, 2000; “State superfund quarterly status report,” TNRCC, March 1997.
7 “Accusations fly in Austin over nuclear dump proposal,” Houston Chronicle, May 23, 1995.
8 Valhi’s quarterly report filed March 27, 2000.
9 SB 1541 and HB 3420.
10 “Simmons exceeded PAC limits,” Dallas Morning News, May 20, 1997; “Two Texans agree to pay fines,” Dallas Morning News, March 18, 1993; “Campaign gifts flow from rich,” Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1990.
11 “Family feud shows how rich spread political gifts,” Dallas Morning News, May 4, 1997.
12 Valhi’s quarterly report filed March 27, 2000.
View the Simmons Empire Political Influence Diagram (pdf)
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