2 Philly mutual fund figures = top Koch GOP donors

Foster Friess, the retired founder of the Greenville, Del.-based Brandywine mutual funds, and John Templeton, Main Line heir to his father's Templeton Funds fortune, are the Philly-area reps on the  Koch brothers' list of million-dollar donors to conservative politicians and their Tea Party allies, gold-mining heir Adam Hochschild's left-wing Mother Jones magazine reports  here.

Friess and I go back a little ways. He's an original, a denomination-hopping evangelical Christian whose stock-stalking analysts aggressively researched, not just glib CEOs, but also their suppliers, vendors and rivals, to make some canny stock picks in the bullish '90s.

Trained at the Brittingham family investment office, a pioneering growth-stock investment group owned by a timber-baron family who moved from Bob LaFollette's left-leaning Wisconsin to business-friendly Delaware at the du Pont family's invitation 80 years ago, Friess accepted a Brittingham college scholarship, then set up his own investment shop, poached Brittingham clients like the prestigious Nobel Prize fund, and prospered in the bull market of the 1980s and 90s.

As a business reporter at the Wilmington News-Journal, I liked to quote Friess's  investor reports, which differed from the usual fund propaganda by highlighting Friess's money-losing stock-picks, as well as his profitable ones.

Friess, who lived in Chadds Ford, was press-shy. But he was gaining a national profile in political circles, having joined Richard Mellon Scaife in bankrolling US Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.)'s victorious 1994 campaign. In 1996 Friess tried to knock off then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.). To get more time with him, I volunteered to cover the election-night Cavaliers Country Club party for Friess's candidate, a Dover restaurant owner, Ray Clatworthy.

Clatworthy got stomped by the popular Biden and conceded early, which gave me plenty of time to talk to Friess. He was glad to learn I had volunteered at a Wilmington school for poor kids, and was fathering a houseful of my own. Foster is a big fan of old-fashioned pop-mom-lotsa-kids families, and of privately-funded efforts to help he poor.

So he invited me to learn more about his private-charity efforts, and that's how I ended up stopping by a Wilmington soup kitchen that winter to join Friess on a sawed-off charter bus, along with Santorum and fellow U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), later G.W. Bush's Attorney General, and Reps. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., and J.C. Watts, R-Okla., and Penn political scientist John J. DiIulio, later Bush's ill-starred head of Faith-Based Initiatives, all aided by a young GOP operative named David Kuo.

Friess hoped to demonstrate his belief that private charity works better than government subsidies. His charitable foundation declined to help, for example, the cash-strapped Chester public library, because it was taxpayer-supported, while giving generously to a self-proclaimed reformed Wilmington bum who said he was helping other bums find work (that experiment ended badly). 

So that day we visited a Franciscan soup kitchen, then drove up to North Philadelphia, to visit Deliverance Evangelistic Church, on the site of old Connie Mack Stadium, which Friess had convinced himself was a privately-funded outpost of charity (the shelter and preschool) and commerce (the church-backed shopping strip across the street.) 

On the bus, Santorum pontificated and refused to answer questions; Ashcroft complained about the Clinton administration trying to marginalize Republicans; Pitts spoke knowledgeably and reasonably about pending legislation; Watts fell asleep. 

We got to Deliverance and the Honorables had a grand time walking through the sanctuary, with its marker commemorating the Philadelphia A's old home plate. Then Friess gathered the church and school staff, introduced the Washington crowd, and made a fine declamatory speech on how Deliverance proves private charity works better than government. Meanwhile the teachers were walking up to me and asking in excited whispers, Are these guys gonna give us money? Cause we sure need it!

I had done a little research, and I chose this moment to take Kuo aside and told him how the Deliverance programs Friess so admired were, in fact, financed with city and federal funds, and that I would have to point this out in my article. He looked at me blankly, then walked off without a word, approached Friess at the microphone, and whispered in his ear. Friess looked over at me, asked a member of the church staff for a room with a door, and marched his group into executive session. I was left to talk a little more to the hopeful teachers.

Friess soon emerged and said, despite learning there was, in fact, public money involved at Deliverance, his group was making a donation to the privately-funded sector of the group's programs. We marched back to the bus, got the Honorables to their transportation contacts, and headed back to Wilmington, where I wrote my column. Watts liked it so well he posted it to his Web site, where it remained awhile even after he'd left Congress.

Friess's firm called the dot.com crash too early, dumping stocks while the market was still inflating, then bought back in just in time to get burned in the crash.Friess sold out and moved to Jackson Hole, where he'd summered for years. He's still generously financing small charities, and big politicians, and quoting conservative would-be Presidents approvingly on his personal Web site.