Richard Mellon Scaife

Richard Mellon Scaife
Richard Mellon Scaife

It might be argued that Richard Mellon Scaife pursues conspiracies from two perspectives from his base in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On the one hand, as a wealthy donor to numerous right-wing institutions in the United States, Scaife has funded many articles and studies blaming liberals and Communists for conspiring against the economic wellbeing, security, and morality of the U.S. people.

On the other hand, his critics charge that Scaife has launched numerous conspiracies attacking his political enemies on the Left. Furthermore, many of Scaife’s associates have noted his long-standing predilection for conspiracy theories (Kaiser and Chinoy).

Scaife is heir to a family fortune that, through enterprise and marriage, grew to include the Mellon Bank and major investments in Gulf Oil and Alcoa. In addition to substantial personal wealth, Scaife also controls three foundations: the Sarah Scaife Foundation, with 1999 assets of $302 million; the Allegheny Foundation, with $39 million; and the Carthage Foundation, with $24 million. Scaife’s children control a fourth entity, the Scaife Family Foundation, with $170 million in assets.

Scaife’s funding of conservative groups began in the early 1960s and he backed ultraconservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, Jr., who was trounced in the 1964 general election. Scaife contributed $1 million to the 1972 election campaign of Richard Nixon, and some $45,000 ended up in an illegal fund tied to the Watergate scandal.

Scaife went on to fund scores of right-wing policy think tanks, legal groups, and publications. He joined with beer magnate Joseph Coors to start the Heritage Foundation, the flagship think tank of the U.S. New Right.

Heritage supplied the working papers for many of the conservative policies of the Reagan administration, which began in 1981. During this period, various Scaife entities funded conservative causes at the rate of about $10 million per year, with a cumulative total of $340 million by 1999.

Scaife is fascinated with intelligence agencies and military affairs, and reportedly was a fan of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. In the 1970s Scaife owned a publishing enterprise that included an international news agency based in London that Scaife shut down shortly before it was accused of cooperating with the CIA to produce anticommunist propaganda.

Scaife has also funded the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Maldon Institute. Both groups publish studies stressing global conspiracies of Communists and socialists, and, more recently, anarchists and Muslims. Maldon features the work of John Rees, who infiltrated and spied on left-wing groups in the late 1960s and 1970s with information being shared with right-wing publications and the FBI.

Other Scaife-funded organizations include the Western Journalism Center, American Spectator, Accuracy in Media, Landmark Legal Foundation, and Judicial Watch—all of which were especially active in the anti-Clinton network.

When Hillary Clinton said her husband, President William Jefferson Clinton, was the target of a vast right-wing conspiracy seeking impeachment, her comments echoed a study prepared by a Democratic Party analyst that placed Scaife at the hub of a covert anti-Clinton campaign.

While Ms. Clinton may have been overstating the case, Scaife funding was important in sustaining anti-Clinton conspiracy theories, especially around the case of Clinton’s aide Vince Foster, whose suicide early in the Clinton administration was widely regarded as suspicious by the political Right.

Scaife hired former New York Post reporter Christopher Ruddy to pursue the idea that Vince Foster’s death was not a suicide, as well as other stories about Clinton’s alleged involvement in various conspiracies.

Scaife published these articles in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, one of a number of publications controlled by Scaife. Ruddy helped bring the conspiracy allegations about Clinton floating across the Internet and the front pages of the tabloid press into mainstream coverage in major daily news-papers and network television news.

Scaife’s foundations gave $2.4 million to the American Spectator Education Foundation while its sister organization, the conservative American Spectator magazine, was running a series of anti-Clinton articles, one of which prompted Paula Jones to sue the president, alleging sexual misconduct.

The foundation also launched the “Arkansas Project,” financing anti-Clinton information-gathering operations involving reporters, private investigators, former law enforcement officers, and political operatives.

Between 1993 and 1996, $1.7 million of the Scaife funds reported as legal fees were apparently used for the Arkansas Project. Some of this money was used to promote the idea that the Clintons were involved in a massive real estate scam dubbed “Whitewater.”

Scaife, who turned sixty-seven in the year 2000, can be personable and gracious, but he is secretive and avoids public scrutiny. He also has a creative, if nasty, temper. Investigative reporter Karen Rothmyer doggedly pursued an interview with Scaife for a 1981 article in the Columbia Journalism Review.

When she finally tracked Scaife down and confronted him outside a corporate meeting, Rothmyer asked about Scaife’s funding of the New Right. Scaife’s now-legendary retort—printed in an article sidebar—was, “You fucking Communist cunt, get out of here” (Rothmyer).

Rothmeyer and reporter David Warner were the first to note that Scaife funded conservative projects in a very strategic manner to maximize the propaganda value of his dollars. Scaife accomplishes this by simultaneously funding several different projects at different groups on the same topic.

According to Rothmeyer, the result is that in matters of defense and economic policy Scaife has helped to foster the illusion that there is a far greater diversity of views than actually exists. This has helped shift political discourse further to the right in the United States.