Foster Friess, Big Donor to Republicans, Dies at 81

Foster Friess, a Wyoming businessman who founded an investment firm, made a fortune and gave a lot of it away to Republican presidential candidates and charities, sometimes with flair, died on Thursday in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 81.

His organization, Foster’s Outriders, which confirmed the death, said he had been receiving care at the Mayo Clinic there for myelodysplastic syndrome, a disorder of the blood cells and bone marrow.

Gov. Mark Gordon of Wyoming, who defeated Mr. Friess in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2018, writing on Twitter, called Mr. Friess “a strong and steady voice for Republican and Christian values.”

Mr. Friess’s run for governor was his only try at major elected office. In the political arena he was primarily known for his donations, particularly to the presidential bids of Rick Santorum, the former United States senator from Pennsylvania, in the 2012 and 2016 campaigns. After Mr. Santorum left the 2016 race, Mr. Friess became one of the first Republican megadonors to embrace Donald J. Trump.

But to many, the most important support that Mr. Friess, an evangelical Christian, and his wife, Lynnette, provided was to charities. Foster’s Outriders and the Lynn and Foster Friess Family Foundation have provided scholarships, financed work for homeless people, supported water projects in Africa and much more. His organization said Mr. Friess had donated $500 million in his lifetime.

His 70th birthday party in 2010 in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he lived much of the year, was the stuff of legend. The website wyofile.com described it.

“In the invitations to the party, Friess, a born-again Christian, had asked the guests to identify their favorite charity that reflected the values of his favorite quote from Galatians: ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,’” it wrote in 2011. “He vowed to give $70,000 to the most worthy nominee.”

When the time came to announce the winner, the servers at the Four Seasons Resort, where the party was being held, distributed envelopes to the guests.

“Friess asked the lucky winner to stand up and shout, and for the other guests to remain seated,” the account continued. “Then he sat back and waited for the mayhem.”

As people opened the envelopes, someone at every table stood and shouted, “I won!” He had funded every request, at a cost of $7.7 million.

In 2012 Mr. Friess supported Mr. Santorum not so much because he agreed with all his policies — “I try to talk him out of them,” he told the broadcaster Lou Dobbs in February 2012 — but because he thought the Republican Party needed a new face.

“These old veteran war horses, they have a hard time making it,” he said on “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” “Dole couldn’t make it, McCain couldn’t make it. On the Democratic side, Gore couldn’t make it and Kerry couldn’t make it. So the Democrats bring these fresh faces, they bring Carter from out of nowhere, they bring Clinton from out of nowhere, they bring Obama from beyond nowhere.”

Later that month Mr. Friess made headlines when, on MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell asked him whether Mr. Santorum’s statements on “the dangers of contraception” would hurt his campaign.

“Back in my days,” Mr. Friess said, “they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”

Mr. Santorum’s primary campaign started strong but foundered, and Mr. Obama was elected to a second term, defeating Mitt Romney.

In the next presidential campaign, Mr. Friess also supported Mr. Santorum initially. In mid-2015, with the Republican field choked with candidates and the nastiness level increasing, he called on the candidates not to “drift off the civility reservation.”

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