Environment

The Law that Let Harold Simmons Dump Nuclear Waste in West Texas Was Greased by Illegal Political Contributions, Says Ethics Ruling

Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons knows well that money, particularly when doled out in large quantities to candidates and political action committees, is the grease that keeps our democracy running smoothly. So it was only natural that, when it came time for the Texas legislature to consider a measure that would give Simmon's company, Waste Control Specialists, exclusive license to accept tons and tons of radioactive waste at its facility in West Texas, raking in mountains of cash in the process, he opened his checkbook.

Among the checks he wrote in the lead-up to the vote on that bill was a $100,100 contribution to WCS-Texas Solution PAC. The PAC, in turn, funneled $65,000 into the campaigns of 17 state legislators, including the bill's two sponsors, Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo and Rep. Tryon Lewis of Odessa, and a couple of locals in Dallas Rep. Ken Sheets and now-Congressman Marc Veasey. The legislation passed in May 2011.

Nearly two years later, the Texas Ethics Commission has determined that the WCS-Texas Solution PAC violated state campaign finance laws. The TEC flagged two specific violations.

The lesser infraction is that some of the PAC's filings notes that it is controlled by WCS but fails to identify a treasurer. In later filings, the treasurer is identified as Bill Lindquist, WSC's CEO. More significant is that the WCS-Texas Solution PAC violated a law requiring such committees to have at least 10 donors before making a political contribution. That rule is presumably in place to prevent wealthy individuals from funneling money through a PAC to disguise its source.

Of course, there wasn't really any need for Simmons to go through the PAC, given that Texas has no cap on an individual's campaign contributions. At the same time, no one will suffer much at the hands of the famously toothless TEC, which brought down the hammer and levied a whopping $6,450 fine on the PAC and told Lindquist to never let it happen again.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson