Santorum donor in the spotlight

Foster Friess watches Santorum speak to supporters in Altoona, Iowa, on Jan. 2, 2012. AP

Foster Friess watches Santorum speak to supporters in Altoona, Iowa, on Jan. 2, 2012.
AP
Who was on hand to cheerfully introduce Rick Santorum before his address to the Conference Political Action Conference on Friday?

Not a family member, not an elected official, or in fact, a more traditional surrogate. Rather, it was millionaire Wyoming businessman Foster Friess, who has contributed generously to the Super PAC backing Santorum, the Red, White and Blue Fund.

Sporting a Santorum sweater vest, Friess peppered his brief remarks with jokes and delivered a ringing endorsement of Santorum's candidacy.

"Life is so much fun and filled with humor," Friess began, smiling widely. "There is a little bar a couple doors down, and recently a conservative, a liberal and moderate walk into the bar. The bartender says "Hi, Mitt." The crowd gave Friess a rousing round of applause.

Santorum's big benefactor

Friess' presence at Santorum's side is another sign of the increasingly visible and cozy relationship between the candidate and one of his principal financial backers, a longtime champion of Christian conservative causes. Despite the fact that Super PACs and campaigns are forbidden from directly coordinating with one another, Friess has frequently appeared by Santorum's side in the last few weeks, traveling with him aboard the campaign plane and standing at his elbow on the night he shocked the political world by sweeping the Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado caucuses.

"He's competitive and he's a fighter," Fries said of Santorum, noting that he is the only blue-collar candidate in the race who will appeal to everyday Americans. "This is the combative spirit we're going to need to win."

Friess kept Santorum's campaign afloat in the days before his victories in the early nominating states made him a serious contender for the nomination. Federal Election Commission filings show that Friess gave the Red, White and Blue Fund $331,000 in 2011, before Santorum's surprise win in Iowa. He has said that since then, he has contributed more but has declined to give specific figures, although he noted it was much less than casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who along with his wife, gave $10 million to the SuperPAC backing former Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"I don't think I'm going to be needed," Friess said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Thursday. "I can go back to the golf course because the money is rolling in."

Aides have said the two men are longtime friends, who discuss everything from politics to family.

Santorum began his own speech by saying he wouldn't try to compete with Friess on the humor front. "Foster cornered the market on that," Santorum said.

  • Naureen Khan On Twitter»

    Naureen Khan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.

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