By Julie Bykowicz & Greg Giroux
Harold Simmons, a Texas billionaire, gave $8.5 million in the last six months of 2011 to support two Republican presidential contenders and a political action committee founded with help from Karl Rove, U.S. Federal Election Commission filings released yesterday show.
The donations make Simmons, 80, a standout in a roster of executives and wealthy investors who are taking advantage of loosened campaign-finance regulations to sink millions of dollars into political committees seeking to influence the 2012 presidential race, according to the disclosure reports.
The four main Republican presidential super-PACs raised $34 million and spent $8.5 million in 2011, FEC reports show. A super-PAC backing former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future, raised $30.2 million of that $34 million, or 89 percent.
Simmons’ donations differ from other contributors in that he gave to super-PACs backing presidential candidates and American Crossroads, the group backed by Rove, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, that plans to run ads to defeat President Barack Obama. American Crossroads will also weigh in on House and Senate races.
Swift Boat AdsLong active in Texas politics, Simmons has a history of using his money to influence politics outside the traditional party and candidate structures. In 2004, he gave $4 million to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group that questioned Democratic nominee John Kerry’s Vietnam War service.
E-mails to Simmons and his assistant weren’t returned last night.
Simmons and his Contran Corp. holding company were the single-largest contributors to American Crossroads and to independent committees backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry during the filing period covered in yesterday’s release.
The $7 million that Simmons and Contran gave American Crossroads accounted for 60 percent of the group’s total haul between Oct. 4 and the end of the year. He also gave the group $1 million in 2010, disclosure reports show.
Gingrich, Perry DonationsSimmons gave $500,000 to a pro-Gingrich group, Winning Our Future, on Dec. 15, and his company wrote two $500,000 checks to a pro-Perry group, Make Us Great Again, on Sept. 23 and Oct. 24.
Dallas-based Contran (CTRW), which has stakes in companies that produce chemicals and manage waste, gave the most to Make Us Great Again: $1 million in two donations, including the one in October. Perry quit his presidential bid on Jan. 19.
Simmons and Perry have a record of supporting each other. Simmons donated more than $1.2 million to Perry’s gubernatorial campaigns. Under Perry’s watch in Austin, Simmons’ company was granted a permit to build a radioactive waste dump -- a move that prompted at least three members of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to resign in protest.
The pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future’s latest backer, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, didn’t contribute to the committee in the period documented by yesterday’s FEC filing. He and his wife gave $10 million to the committee last month, according to Rick Tyler, the super-PAC’s spokesman.
Family TiesOther Las Vegas residents with family ties to Adelson, Oren and Yasmin Lukatz and Sivan Ochshorn, gave a combined $1 million in December to Winning Our Future, about half the committee’s total receipts for December, the period the committee reported yesterday.
Tyler, a former Gingrich campaign spokesman, said yesterday on Bloomberg Television that he has “no knowledge” of whether more money from Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS), is on the way to the super-PAC.
The super-PAC supporting Romney, the winner of yesterday’s Florida primary, also listed large contributions from business backers in the final three months of 2011.
Among them were checks for $1 million written by Robert Mercer, co-chief executive officer of hedge fund Renaissance Technologies; Singer, Elliott Management’s president; and Julian Robertson, co-founder and president of hedge fund Tiger Management LLC.
Democratic DonorsPriorities USA Action, a super-PAC backing Obama, gained the high-dollar support of several Hollywood fixtures.
Spielberg, the movie director, contributed $100,000 in July, and William Little Jr., chairman of George Little Management LLC in New York, contributed $150,000 in December. Almost half of Priorities’ $1.2 million donations in the final six months of the year came from a $500,000 Dec. 28 contribution by the Service Employees International Union’s Committee on Political Education.
Priorities was founded in April. Among its first contributions was a $2 million check from Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive officer of DreamWorks Animation, a July FEC filing shows.
Bill Burton, co-founder of Priorities USA Action, said in a telephone interview yesterday that he is seeking money from “a community of Democrats” who fear the damaging messages expected to come from Republican-backed super-PACs such as American Crossroads.
‘Open Checkbook’Foster Friess, a fund manager and evangelical Christian who told Bloomberg Television in a Jan. 27 interview that he has an “open checkbook” for anyone who opposes Obama, contributed $331,000 to a committee supportive of Santorum.
The Red White and Blue Fund also collected $250,000 from John Templeton Jr. to assist Santorum, who on Jan. 14 was endorsed by a group of religious leaders. Templeton runs his late father’s philanthropy, the John Templeton Foundation.
Endorse Liberty, a super-PAC backing U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, reported raising $1,020,055 last year, the majority of it from two December contributions totaling $900,000 made by Peter Thiel, Clarium Capital Management investor and active Republican donor.
Former Utah Governor Huntsman’s candidacy, which ended Jan. 16, was supported by $1.9 million from his father. The money accounted for about 70 percent of super-PAC Our Destiny’s receipts last year. Huntsman dropped out of the race after placing third in the New Hampshire primary and endorsed Romney.
Congressional DonationsBig donors also are pouring money into Senate and House races.
Majority PAC, which supports Senate Democrats saw contributions of $500,000 in November from James H. Simons, a philanthropist with Euclidean Capital LLC; $100,000 in December from George Soros; and $100,000 in August from Portland publisher Win McCormack. House Majority PAC took in $150,000 in October from Fred Eychaner, a frequent donor.
Bernard Schwartz, a major donor to Bill Clinton’s 1992 election and re-election, made $100,000 contributions to both groups. Schwartz is chief executive officer of BLS Investments, a private investment firm based in New York and was chief executive officer of Loral Space & Communications Inc. in New York.