AUSTIN, Tex. — In 2008, Larry Soward, one of three commissioners on Texas' environmental regulatory agency, cast the lone dissenting vote against licensing a controversial low-level nuclear disposal site in far West Texas.
Looking back now, Soward says, "it didn't take too much of a rocket-scientist" to conclude that the project — pushed by one of Gov. Rick Perry's biggest political donors — would ultimately be approved.
Dallas multibillionaire Harold Simmons' successful quest to build the Andrews County facility is encountering renewed scrutiny now that his political beneficiary is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
Simmons has donated $1.2 million to Perry's gubernatorial campaigns since 2001 to become Perry's second-largest individual contributor, according to Texans for Public Justice, a state watchdog organization. He also has donated $100,000 to an independent political action committee that sought to wage a write-in candidacy for Perry in the Iowa straw poll this year.
Perry's connections with powerful Texas business interests during his nearly 11 years as governor have emerged as an issue in his presidential race, drawing charges from opponents that Perry's time as Texas governor has been marked by a pattern of "crony capitalism."