What Does the 2012 Campaign’s Biggest Donor Really Want?
In early 2010, Karl Rove convened a group of businessmen for lunch at a private club in Dallas. The guests included some of the richest and most influential people in Texas. T. Boone Pickens, the corporate raider from Amarillo, was there, as was Harlan Crow, the prodigal son of Trammell Crow, the most prominent real estate developer in the country in his day. Some of the men had contributed to Rove’s campaigns for a quarter of a century.
Rove had come to them with a new proposition. He and his partner, former George W. Bush White House counselor Ed Gillespie, were traversing the country to drum up financial support for an organization called American Crossroads. Taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s recent obliteration of limits on corporate campaign contributions in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,Rove and Gillespie were building an independent campaign operation with the aim of taking Congress back from the Democrats that November and, two years later, pulling the plug on Barack Obama’s presidency. “All of us,” Rove told the group, according to an account of the meeting in The Wall Street Journal, “are responsible for the kind of country we have.”
After Rove finished, one of the men spoke up. “I’m in,” Harold Simmons said.
Simmons, the billionaire owner of a Dallas-based constellation of companies in industries ranging from sugar-refining to nuclear waste disposal, had been financing Rove’s campaigns since 1986. He had donated $90,000 to Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns and $2.5 million to Bush-allied political organizations during his presidential runs. Gale Norton, Bush’s interior secretary, had previously been a Washington lobbyist for one of Simmons’s companies. When Bush held his first white-tie dinner at the White House in 2007, in honor of Queen Elizabeth, Simmons and his third wife, Annette, were among the guests eating spring lamb off the Lenox china.