Billionaires Keep Gingrich, Santorum, Huntsman Financially Afloat

Thursday, 12 Jan 2012 12:46 PM

By Dan Weil

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Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman may have dwindling funds in their campaign coffers. But they each have billionaires backing their super PACs, allowing them to continue running top-shelf campaigns, Politico reports.

The fat cats include Las Vegas casino titan Sheldon Adelson, who just ponied up $5 million for the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future – money that will allow the group to widely distribute a video blasting front-runner Mitt Romney for his tenure at private equity firm Bain Capital.

Meanwhile, Foster Friess, who built one of the country’s top money management firms, is providing major financial support for the Red, White and Blue Fund, the super PAC supporting Santorum. The group’s $537,000 of ad spending in Iowa may have played a crucial role in pushing the former Pennsylvania senator to a second-place finish in the Hawkeye State’s caucuses.

Huntsman was born wealthy. His father, Jon Huntsman Sr., founded Huntsman Chemical, which helped turn the entrepreneur into a billionaire. He has reportedly given millions to Our Destiny, a super PAC supporting his son.

The three candidates should thank their lucky stars for various federal court rulings in 2010 that allow a single donor to plough unlimited money into a super PAC, which can then use the money to boost a candidate.

Friess and Adelson were happy to discuss their activity with Politico. “I guess if Newt’s got $5 million, it makes sense that Rick [Santorum] should have a little bit,” said Friess, whose ties with Santorum go back to the 1990s. He’s giving, because “I believe that Rick Santorum is the most electable candidate. And I’m just thrilled to be able to have played a role so far.”

The investment star scoffed at a story on the liberal Daily Kos website headlined “Meet Foster Friess, Billionaire Who Bought Iowa for Santorum.” Friess’ response: “I told my wife ‘Wow, I got a bargain.’ ”

Friess notes that the super PACs and campaigns supporting former Massachusetts Gov. Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry spent much more than the Santorum side. Friess said the headline also “completely discounts that Rick Santorum went to 381 town halls” during his Iowa campaigning.

Friess campaigned with Santorum in Iowa and is devoted to social conservative causes. He told Politico he’s creating a challenge grant to spark other donations to the Red, White and Blue Fund. He said it garnered a $1 million contribution Wednesday.

The group has bought $800,000 of ad time in South Carolina. The Red, White and Blue Fund’s ads have been positive so far. Friess acknowledges that “negative ads are more impactful, five to one.” But he said he told the super PAC that “any money that I’m connected to, I want the ads to be dignified, and I want them to be honest. I’m fine with contrast ads, but I’m very, very averse to some of the ads that I think are destructive.”

Friess lauded Santorum for being “the only competitor who didn’t jump on that bandwagon to stomp on Romney.”

Adelson shies away from negativity too, saying he’s backing Gingrich, not opposing the others.

“I’m a guy who practices loyalty,” said the casino mogul, whose friendship with Gingrich goes back to the mid-1990s, when the candidate was House speaker. They share support for Israel and opposition to labor unions.

“I wouldn’t step away from Gingrich because I think another candidate is the best. I think that Gingrich is the best candidate, and he’ll make the best president,” Adelson told Politico. “That doesn’t mean that the other guys would make lousy presidents, OK? But on a scale of one to 10, I've got to make a priority of who I think will make the best president.”

If Gingrich fails to win the nomination, “I would certainly support the Republican candidate,” Adelson said. “The idea is to avoid another four years of [President Barack] Obama, because this won’t be the same country.”

Huntsman Sr. has frequently been on the campaign trail with his son, including on stage after junior’s third-place finish in New Hampshire. Our Destiny paid for more than $2 million worth of ads in New Hampshire supporting Huntsman and lambasting Romney.

The candidate said he’s “mighty thankful” for the “air cover.” Huntsman Sr. “communicates daily with his son” and “continue[s] to be a major contributor” to Our Destiny, Fred Davis, a key adviser to the super PAC, told Politico.

But Huntsman Sr. has “no official role” and “no unofficial role” with the super PAC, Davis said. He said neither Senior nor any other donors have any input in the PAC’s decisions. “Only the board [does],” he said. Donors are told only “that they are helping the candidacy of Jon Huntsman. They trust the organization and professionals to spend the money wisely,” Davis said.

Some critics, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have expressed concern that the large cash influx to super PACs “will lead to corruption and scandals.”

But both Adelson and Friess said they don’t want — or expect — anything in return for their financial support.

Some Republicans also are concerned that the super PAC activity will simply weaken the nominee in a general election showdown with Obama. But allies of Gingrich, Santorum, and Huntsman reject that complaint. They point out that a heated, drawn-out 2008 primary race between Obama and Hillary Clinton didn’t do much to hurt Obama in the general election.


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