By Julie Bykowicz
Harold Simmons built a West Texas dump for radioactive waste that is bigger than 1,000 football fields and he can’t fill it.
To turn it into a profitable enterprise, the Texas billionaire hired lobbyists to urge the Obama administration to expand the types of nuclear waste, including depleted uranium, the dump can accept and award his company disposal contracts. If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission changes the rule, it could open access to a market worth billions. The deadline for a decision is in 2014.
Simmons now is spending money in a new way that could improve his business prospects: He’s invested $15.9 million this election cycle in various groups to help elect Republicans, who advocate easing regulations on the nuclear industry.
The largest chunk of Simmons’s campaign cash — $12 million — has gone to American Crossroads, a so-called super political action committee that takes unlimited donations and has a stated mission of defeating President Barack Obama. He has given at least $700,000 to Restore Our Future, a super-PAC backing Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination whose call for a fast-tracked permitting process for new nuclear plants could benefit Simmons’s Waste Control Specialists LLC.
“Whatever federal switch has to be thrown to get uranium into the hole, believe me, it will be thrown; that’s how Harold Simmons works,” said Glenn Lewis, a former Texas environmental employee who retired in protest to Simmons’s influence in the state permitting process for his dump.
Eighteen people have given at least $1 million to Republican super-PACs so far this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington group that tracks political spending. Before 2010 U.S. Supreme Court rulings and regulatory changes allowing unlimited donations, those individuals would have been confined to contributions of $2,500 to candidates and $5,000 to PACs.
Those wealthy backers have said they give because they share Republican Party policies for a less active federal government or on national security issues.
“What scares me is the continuation of the socialist-style economy we’ve been experiencing for almost four years,” Sheldon Adelson, a casino owner, told Forbes in a Feb. 21 article, explaining why he gives money to Republicans.