The Man Behind Rick Santorum’s Money: An Interview with Foster Friess

Feb 3, 2012 7:00am

The man fueling Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign is a Wyoming cowboy with a special interest in conservative cause who wears a tall, white hat and likes to call himself the “man atop the  horse.”

He’s also a billionaire.

His name is Foster Friess, and he’s largely bankrolling the pro-Santorum super PAC behind the effort to make the former Pennsylvania senator the 2012 GOP nominee.

In an interview with ABC News, the mutual fund manager says he will continue “to be supportive in helping raise funds for the Super PAC” called the “Red, White, and Blue Fund,” and he’s encouraged by Santorum’s plan to stay in the race for the long haul.

“I think Rick’s intention is to go all the way to the convention, about which I’m excited,” Friess told ABC News in an email interview.

Friess is a born-again Christian who, along with his wife, Lynn, has given millions to conservative and Christian causes, including $1 million to Koch-brothers-related causes, as well as non-political charities, including raising money for children orphaned in the Haitian earthquake.

This week, when FEC forms were released, they revealed that Friess gave almost half of the funds to the super PAC supporting Santorum. Friess hasn’t revealed how much money he’s given the fund, but the FEC report said he donated $331,000, but this is all before Santorum’s Iowa victory in January.

It’s nowhere near the $10 million that Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave Newt Gingrich’s super PAC, but the fund is absolutely helping Santorum go on the air and letting him conserve his resources (the campaign itself raised $4.2 million in January) for a long, drawn-out campaign.

Friess, who often wears his Wyoming white cowboy hat, is a longtime supporter of Santorum’s. The man who calls himself a “professional dart thrower” even poured in $250,000 to a group that ran ads on behalf of Santorum’s failed 2006 Senate re-election campaign. The businessman, who made his money running an incredibly successful mutual investment fund, said he’s not being pressured by others to back Mitt Romney, the clear frontrunner, and he intends to stay supportive of Santorum.

The super PAC put out its first negative ad Thursday comparing Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney to President Obama, but Friess had nothing but positive things to say about Romney, even calling him a “national treasure.”

“There would be nothing wrong with rallying around Gov. Romney, but the reason I’m not going to do it is because I think Rick Santorum has a much better chance of beating President Obama,” Friess said, before listing the attributes that he thinks makes Santorum a better general election candidate. “If you were to call up central casting and say, ‘Send me over someone to run against this dynamic, articulate, charismatic, 50-year-old president of ours, and then they listed Rick’s qualities … 53 years old, starts each morning with 50 push-ups, is the grandson of a coal miner, has demonstrated the ability to win blue collar votes by winning in Pennsylvania, which had over 1 million Democratic registration advantage, and grew up on a Veterans Administration hospital grounds where his father worked, and is a fellow of modest means.”

He said he spent 30 minutes meeting with Romney “one on one” in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where Friess is based, although he also spends time in Scottsdale, Ariz., before Romney attended a fundraiser there.

Romney “can’t be faulted for being the son of a successful governor, and having a $20 million income. I certainly don’t hold that against him, and I think it’s quite honorable, in fact, and gives him good qualities.”

Romney’s tax returns released last month show the candidate earning $20.9 million last year and had $21.7 million in income in 2010. His estimated net worth is between $190 million and $250 million.

“It’s just the fact that it makes it a little harder in the contrast for a blue collar guy to identify with him as much as he could with the grandson of a coal miner,” Friess said, echoing a point Santorum has mentioned a few times on the stump, but not a point he makes often. “I’ve received no pressure, by the way, to rally around Mitt, although I have huge respect for him. … He is truly a national treasure.”

Friess said he doesn’t counsel his chosen candidate on strategy, but he does think Santorum can woo the “pro-Israel voting bloc,” Catholic and Evangelical voters.

Santorum is constantly mentioning on the stump the dangers of a nuclear Iran and how the country would never be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon if he were president, but Friess specifically mentioned his work on both Iran- and Syria-related issues as reasons he would do well with voters that are interested in a more hawkish and conservative Israel stance.

Friess also cited the recent controversy between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church as the reason Santorum, a Catholic himself, would do well with the important voting bloc. On the stump, Santorum has been railing against a new rule from the Department of Health and Human Services that will require all employer-provided health care plans, including those by religious employers like the Catholic Church, to provide contraception to women.

“The recent declaration by President Obama that universities and hospitals associated with Catholic institutions must provide birth control in their health care plans despite any issues of their individual conscience will give Rick Santorum, as a Catholic, an opportunity to get a big chunk of that vote,” Friess said, “and also the evangelical vote … so those three blocs alone tied into the blue collar vote make him a standout candidate for us.”

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life identify 26.3 percent of Americans as evangelical Christians and 23.9 percent of Americans identify as Catholics.

Friess said Republicans “should have learned in the past” that nominees that are “highly experienced, time-tested, old war horses isn’t a blueprint for winning.”

“It certainly didn’t work with Dole, and it didn’t work with McCain, and the Democrats found that it didn’t work with Gore and it didn’t work with Kerry,” Friess said, echoing a point that Santorum makes on the stump as to why the GOP shouldn’t nominate “the next in line,” “So, who do the Democrats bring into the fray? Carter from out of nowhere, Clinton from out of nowhere and Barack Obama from beyond nowhere.”

Friess was in Johnston, Iowa, with Santorum the night he won the Iowa caucuses on Jan 3 (Santorum was placed eight votes behind Mitt Romney that night and wasn’t declared the actual winner until two weeks ago), a huge victory if you consider both Santorum and his super PAC spent very little in the state compared to his opponents.

Friess said he will be back on the trail with Santorum on Friday in Missouri and over the weekend with him in Colorado. He will also be at the Conservative Political Action Conference next weekend, where Santorum will address the crowd.

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