A look at conservatives who are bankrolling Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum's brand of conservative Catholicism is not only helping rally a key part of the Republican base but also has proved an asset in drawing deep-pocketed Christian donors.
Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's brand of conservative Catholicism is not only helping rally a key part of the Republican base, but also has proved an asset in drawing deep-pocketed Christian donors to an independent campaign supporting his presidential bid.
The majority of the money raised last year by the Red White and Blue Fund — a "super PAC" that has helped float his shoestring candidacy — came from evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics, according to an examination of campaign-finance records.
The group says it is now enjoying a surge in donations after Santorum's surprise wins last Tuesday in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado. And Santorum's official campaign has brought in more than $1 million per day since the victories, according to spokesman Hogan Gidley.
The most prominent of the group's donors, Foster Friess, a retired mutual-fund executive based in Wyoming, gave $330,000 to the super PAC in 2011 — half of its total proceeds.
After backing Mitt Romney for president four years ago, he is behind Santorum this time around.
He contributed at least $250,000 more in the last month, saying Santorum is the best candidate in the field because he has a "servant's heart."
Last week, Friess played down the significance of his giving, crediting Santorum with his own victories and noting that another donor — whom he would not name — had chipped in $1 million to the fund and was talking about giving more as of Wednesday morning.
"The faith component that Rick and I share is that we know that we're here to be a channel of God's love to others, his hands and feet in a hurting world, and to be a blessing to every person he puts in our path," said Friess, a born-again Christian and prominent Republican donor who is an ally of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who have poured millions into conservative causes.
Friess has attended the Kochs' semiannual retreats for major donors, including the most recent one, held late last month at a resort in California, and like them has donated to Tea Party-inspired candidates and groups, including the Tea Party Express political-action committee.
Like donors to rival super PACs, Friess ranks among the country's leading patrons of Republican and conservative causes. He has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party and candidates in recent years, including to Santorum's two chief rivals for the presidential nomination, Romney and Gingrich, to whom Friess donated last spring. Late last year, Friess gave $100,000 to Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin to help fend off a Democratic-led recall effort.
Santorum's super PAC also received $250,000 from Dr. John Templeton Jr., a surgeon and born-again Christian who runs the John Templeton Foundation, which his late father established to promote the study of the intersection of science, philosophy and theology.
And the group got $20,000 from Frank Hanna III, a Georgia-based investor whose foundation, Solidarity, has supported Catholic philanthropic causes, including the establishment of three new Catholic schools.
The infusion of funds from conservative Christians underscores how Santorum's faith has worked to his advantage in a campaign in which economic issues were expected to be pre-eminent. But conservative faith leaders have escalated their push-back against an Obama administration decision in January not to exempt some religious institutions from a requirement that all employers offer health-insurance plans that provide free contraception.
Santorum railed against the initial contraception rule Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a gathering of conservative activists held annually in Washington.
"This is the kind of coercion that we can expect" under Obama's health-care overhaul, Santorum said. "It's not about contraception. It's about economic liberty, it's about freedom of speech, it's about freedom of religion. It's about government control of your lives and it's got to stop."
The remarks, made before President Obama on Friday announced revisions to the policy, still reflect the senator's position on the rule, Gidley said.
Friess said the debate over the contraception rule was "a huge gift" to Santorum's campaign, adding that it gives him the opportunity to ask, "Do we want to be governed by rules and regulations, or inspired by virtues and values"
Santorum does not have a lock on conservative Christians. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has also made a strong play for that constituency and enjoys the backing of influential religious leaders such as Pastor Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in La Mesa, Calif., and Pastor Richard Lee of First Redeemer Church outside Atlanta.
But Santorum won the support of the majority of the 150 evangelical leaders who gathered last month at a ranch in Texas to pick a presidential candidate.
"There's a strong consensus behind Rick Santorum as the most consistent conservative in the race," said Southern Baptist leader Richard Land, who attended the gathering but is neutral in the race. "He's authentic."
"It obviously translates into dollars, particularly when he started winning," Land added. "The only question anyone ever had about Rick was, 'Could he win?' "
While he has gained momentum, Santorum is at a distinct disadvantage financially. He raised just $2.2 million in 2011, compared with Mitt Romney's $57 million. That has put him behind organizationally — he is not on the ballot in Virginia, for example.
The campaign says that in the last week it has more than doubled the money it raised in the final quarter of 2011. But it is also counting on a lift from the Red White and Blue Fund, which can accept unlimited contributions from individuals and corporations, as long as it does not coordinate with the campaign.
The super PAC already has been key in keeping Santorum's longshot bid alive, spending $2.2 million on advertising and robo-calls in the early Republican contests, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
And it now appears the group will have significantly more resources at its disposal. A donor he would not identify wrote a check to the super PAC for $1 million in the last several weeks, Friess said.
And Stuart Roy, a political adviser to the pro-Santorum organization, said it was bombarded with calls from new donors after Santorum's trifecta of wins last week, which did not award any delegates.
"We've been working at a speed faster than any other day the super PAC has seen in this election season," said Roy, who declined to say how much the group had received in new commitments.
Additional information from The New York Times