Harold Simmons, billionaire Texan donor to Republican Party, dies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 9:37pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 11:28pm

Billionaire Harold Simmons, one of the richest men in the United States and a leading contributor to the Republican Party, has died aged 82.

The death, confirmed by Texas governor Rick Perry, was first reported on the website of the Dallas Morning News, which said he died on Saturday at Baylor University Medical Centre in Dallas, Texas.

His wife, Annette, told the newspaper Simmons had been "very sick for the last two weeks", and in Baylor's intensive care unit for the last eight days. She did not give a cause of death.

Simmons, listed 40th on Forbes' 400 wealthiest Americans, gave millions of dollars to Republican campaigns with a view towards defeating President Barack Obama last year.

He was widely considered one of the Republican Party's most aggressive donors last year, taking advantage of rule changes that placed few limits on how much wealthy individuals and corporations could contribute to political groups.

"Harold Simmons was a true Texas giant, rising from humble beginnings and seizing the limitless opportunity for success we so deeply cherish in our great state," Perry said. "His legacy of hard work and giving, particularly to his beloved University of Texas, will live on for generations."

Though he never ran for office, Simmons profoundly shaped the course of presidential politics in 2004 when one of his businesses gave US$3 million to the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which helped to undermine Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry by attacking his Vietnam war record.

A pioneer of the leveraged buyout, Simmons and his holding company, Contran Corp, was the largest backer of Perry's failed presidential bid.

Simmons has been one of Perry's biggest backers during his tenure as Texas governor, a time when his company Waste Control Specialists sought to set up a lucrative nuclear waste dump in the sparsely populated west of the state. Perry sought to sideline a state commissioner who opposed expanding the scope of the project.

Simmons's donations were not limited to the political arena. He and his wife had pledged to give more than half of their wealth to charity, joining an effort launched by billionaire investor Warren Buffett.