Making The Most of $36 Million

The Wall Street Journal caught up with Harold Simmons for a profile yesterday. Simmons—the Contran Corp. owner worth an estimated $10 billion—is primed to be one of the more influential figures of the 2012 campaign. He's not running for public office nor is he working for any particular campaign. Instead he'll be among the small batch of elite billionaires pouring vast sums into Republican races. Simmons told the Journal that he intends to spend $36 million before the end of the year. He's already spent $18 million on super PACs so far, easily making him the highest dollar donor of the current campaign. The only reason he's not getting the same level of scrutiny devoted to Newt Gingrich's funder Sheldon Adelson or Rick Santorum's Foster Friess is because Simmons has no real stake in the primary:

It isn't particularly important which man wins the nomination, for Mr. Simmons simply wants to defeat the president and reduce the reach of government. "Any of these Republicans would make a better president than that socialist, Obama," said Mr. Simmons during two days of rare interviews at his Dallas home and office. "Obama is the most dangerous American alive…because he would eliminate free enterprise in this country."

Almost every Republican candidate has benefitted from Simmons' checkbook this year. As a Texan, he's a longtime funder for Rick Perry's gubernatorial campaigns and chipped in a bit of money during that brief window when Perry seemed like a plausible contender. His generosity has also been extended to the super PACs backing Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, while his wife donated $1 million to Rick Santorum's PAC.

That $36 million figure might seem staggeringly large, but the exact number matters less than how Simmons and other billionaires of his ilk decide to spend that money in the upcoming election. If that sum ends up entirely around the presidential campaign it will make little difference. The money raised by Obama and the eventual Republican nominee (ok, Mitt Romney) will likely reach historically large proportions; it's been projected that Obama could raise over $1 billion. Funding will eventually have diminishing returns, leaving even $36 million as just another drop in the bucket.

If, on the other hand, that $36 million is spent on other races it could completely tip the balance of power. You'd certainly notice an extra million in advertising for a close Senate race, and that number could represent the bulk of spending in a campaign for a House seat. The Journal article noted Simmons' close friendship with Karl Rove who was among the first to exploit the new post-Citizens United loopholes when he created the American Crossroads super PAC. That group bought up ads opposing Democrats in the last midterms, and appears aimed at replicating that strategy in the upcoming election.


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