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Santorum's big benefactor

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

NEW YORK - Foster Friess, a 71-year-old Wyoming-based investor and philanthropist who has given $2.5 million to Republicans over the past two decades, is Rick Santorum's ace in the hole.

Friess has been the biggest donor disclosed by the Super PAC supporting Santorum's run for the Republican presidential nomination, the Red White and Blue Fund (RWB).

So far, $331,000 of Friess's donations to the Super PAC were revealed in end-of-year reports to the Federal Election Commission. He has admitted giving more, but isn't saying how much.

Friess regularly posts pro-Santorum updates on his website, where he is shown atop a horse wearing his trademark white cowboy hat. He has also attended fundraising meetings held by David and Charles Koch, billionaire backers of conservative political organizations.

Warren Smith, associate publisher of "WORLD" magazine, an evangelical publication, says Friess's money has kept Santorum alive as an alternative to Romney.

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"Conservatives still have deep reservations about Romney. That's why Santorum won in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota. He needs to still be standing, to be a viable alternative when Gingrich flames out," Smith said.

Today, Friess said another donor has sent the RWB Fund $1 million. The second largest donor to date for the pro-Santorum super PAC is Dr. John Templeton of Philadelphia, who gave the group $250,000 in the run up to the Iowa caucuses. Templeton also gave $300,000 to two other conservative super PACs in 2011. His staff did not return a call from CBS News seeking comment on any new donations.

Friess also gave $50,000 on December 29 to another Super PAC called Leaders for Families, which spent $231,000 advertising for Santorum in Iowa.

Friess' financial support of Santorum's political career dates back to Santorum's first U.S. Senate run in Pennsylvania in 1994. Between 1993 and 2004, when Santorum served in Congress, the Friess family gave various Santorum campaign committees $73,000, according to FEC records.

For the 2012 campaign, Friess and his wife, Lynn, gave $2,500 each, the maximum allowed, to Santorum's campaign, and the campaigns for Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty. He also gave $1,000 to Mitt Romney. In 2008, they both gave the then-maximum $2,300 to Romney.

Friess stood behind Santorum as he delivered his victory speech in St. Charles, Missouri, Tuesday night, and was on stage with him in Des Moines on caucus night, January 3rd. Today, Santorum told CBS's Dean Reynolds, "He's been a friend of mine for 20 years."

But Santorum is far from Friess' only Republican friend. In addition to his super PAC donations, Friess and his wife have donated an additional $159,000 in Campaign 2012, chiefly to the Republican National Committee and two Republican party committees backing congressional candidates.

The Friess giving pattern was the same in previous campaign years -- $242,000 in 2010 and $223,000 in 2008 to the same GOP committees and a long roster of Republican candidates for the House and Senate.

One dollar amount we do not know is Friess' net worth. He is definitely a multi-multimillionaire, but he denies being a billionaire.

"The 'billionaire' designation popped out of nowhere in the media many weeks back," Friess emailed "Forbes" magazine reporter Sean Kilachand, who was assigned to tabulate his wealth. Forbes , which prides itself on accurately ranking America's wealthiest for the annual "Forbes 400" list, does not tally Friess' wealth into ten figures, yet.

"When people dub me a billionaire my [wife] came to me and asked if I was squirreling money away," Friess' continued in the Email denying he is worth $1 billion. "I'm not there yet, Sean, but keep in touch. Hope I make it someday, and will be on your list."

Friess' fortune stems mainly from his privately-held Friess Associates, the Jackson-based investment firm he founded in the mid-1970s. The firm's flagship Brandywine Fund averaged 20-percent annual gains in the 1990s.

The Friess Family Foundation has over $100 million in assets, according to IRS filings. In 2011, it gave $5 million to the Georgia-based National Christian Foundation, which supports Christian charities in the U.S. and abroad.

Friess describes himself as a born-again Christian, and sees eye to eye with Santorum on social issues, as well as national security and fiscal issues. Before the Iowa contest, he explained his endorsement of Santorum in a video posted to YouTube.

Today, in an interview with Bloomberg television, Friess described Santorum as someone who believes "our rights come from the Creator, not the government" and said he considered him electable in November as "the grandson of a coal miner who's been able to defeat Democrats."

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