“You know, back in my days, they’d use Bayer aspirin for contraceptives,” Friess said on MSNBC. “The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”
The remark outraged women’s groups and many others, quickly becoming a distraction for Santorum as he attempts to build on a trio of victories that threaten rival Mitt Romney.
Santorum said on CBS’s “This Morning” that the Friess comments were “a bad joke” that he should not have to deal with.
“When you quote a supporter of mine who tells a bad off-color joke and somehow I am responsible for that, that is ‘gotcha,’ ” he said.
But political strategists and campaign finance experts say candidates have little choice but to deal with the fallout from actions taken by their supporters, even if they are ostensibly independent from the campaigns. Many of the biggest financiers of super PACs are part of a new breed of “super bundlers” who also contribute to, or raise money for, their favored candidate’s campaign.
“The fact that Santorum is spending so much time discussing what his super PAC contributor said suggests he understands very well how important the group is to his campaign,” said Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation watchdog group. “He has to talk about it.”
Presidential candidates have waffled in their approaches to super PACs and other outside groups, attempting to maintain their distance while also taking advantage of the clear financial benefits they offer.
President Obama, who has long decried the role of special-interest money in politics, decided last week to encourage fundraising by a pro-Democratic super PAC in the face of strong fundraising by such groups on the other side. Romney, who had already appeared at fundraisers for a super PAC, signaled he would do the same.
All the major presidential candidates have a super PAC dedicated to their cause, funded heavily by billionaire financiers, hedge fund managers and corporate tycoons writing six- and seven-figure checks. The groups emerged from court rulings allowing corporations, unions and individuals to spend and raise unlimited amounts of money in elections as long as they do not directly coordinate with candidates.
This close-but-not-too-close relationship has put several candidates on the spot, particularly when it comes to the sharp-edged attack ads that flooded the airwaves in early primary states.
In January, for example, former House speaker Newt Gingrich sought to distance himself from a series of ads, attacking Romney as a former corporate raider, that were funded by Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich super PAC funded by $11 million in contributions from a Las Vegas casino magnate and his family.