DALLAS – Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons’ political action committee illegally funneled $64,500 to 18 Texas lawmakers after passage of a bill allowing Simmons’ company to dump radioactive waste at a bond-funded site in West Texas, according to reports.
The Texas Ethics Commission last month levied a $6,450 civil penalty against WCS-Texas Solutions PAC for making $64,500 in unauthorized political contributions to 18 Texas lawmakers in late 2011. The civil action was initiated by a formal complaint filed by Texans for Public Justice in February 2012.
According to the TEC, the PAC had only one contributor, who was identified by TPJ as Simmons. Under Texas law, a political action committee must have at least 10 contributors. Simmons alone provided the PAC with its $100,100, according to TPJ.
Simmons could have donated the money in his own name because Texas law allows individuals to give unlimited amounts of money to politicians.
“We are disappointed in the meager size of the civil penalty,” said Craig McDonald, TPJ Director. “It represents a meaningless 10% surcharge on Mr. Simmons’ illegal contributions. The appropriate solution would be a fine at least the size of the illegal contributions.”
Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Rep. Tryon Lewis of Odessa, two of the sponsors of Senate Bill 1504 allowing Simmons’ Waste Control Specialists to use Andrews County as a radioactive waste disposal site, were among lawmakers receiving money from Simmons’ PAC, according to TEC records.
Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for Waste Control Specialists and no relation to the TPJ director, told the Associated Press that the fine amount was "appropriate"
and was personally paid by Bill Lindquist, the campaign treasurer and Waste Control Specialists' chief executive officer.
Simmons, 81, is a longtime backer of conservative causes and was well known for funding the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.
An Associated Press examination of federal campaign contributions in October showed Simmons spending $16.5 million in support of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, ranking Simmons third among the biggest GOP donors, behind Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Houston homebuilder Bob Perry.
On Sept. 8, 2009, Waste Control Specialists was granted its final license to dispose of low-level radioactive waste by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. When backers of the dump were unable to arrange private financing, they turned to Andrews County voters, who approved $75 million of taxable general obligation bonds in 2010. Construction of the disposal facility began that year.
The 30-year bonds, rated A by Standard & Poor’s and AA-minus by Fitch Ratings, would require the county to levy a property tax of 15 cents per $100 value if revenues from the waste dump do not cover the $5 million annual debt service. Currently, the county does not tax property.
Andrews County’s top 10 taxpayers include some of the largest oil and gas corporations representing almost 50% of the tax base. Exxon Mobil Corp. accounts for 14%, according to Fitch Ratings.