Richard Mellon Scaife, conservative philanthropist, dead at 82
One of the left's biggest conservative bogeymen and the right's most beloved figures, Richard Mellon Scaife, has died at the age of 82 after a long illness.
At a time in the 1960's and 70's when conservatives could count of few wealthy contributors to fund candidates, think tanks, and conservative causes, Scaife donated tens of millions of dollars to people like Barry Goldwater, and organizations like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
He is perhaps best known for helping fund the effort to investigate President Clinton, leading Hillary to complain of a "vast right wing conspiracy" arrayed against them. But in recent years, Scaife has given millions to the Clinton Foundation, and welcomed Hillary to editorial board meetings of his newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
The public foundations and private trusts controlled by Mr. Scaife have been major backers of the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, American Enterprise Institute, Hoover Institute in California and the Georgetown University Center for Strategic and International Studies, among many institutions linked to the right. "He is nothing less than the financial archangel for the movement's intellectual underpinnings," the Wall Street Journal once said of Mr. Scaife.
Most of those contributions came outside of the spotlight, but Mr. Scaife's visibility grew during the Clinton presidency. He was identified as the key funder of efforts in the non-mainstream media to discredit Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton -- she called his the money behind "a vast right-wing conspiracy" -- by investigating their pre-White House financial dealings.
In a detailed examination more than a decade ago, The Washington Post estimated Mr. Scaife's trusts and foundations had by then given $340 million to conservative causes.
Though he rarely consented to interviews for any publication, he did emphasize his libertarian views at that time to the newspaper. "Our funding is based on our support of ideas like limited government, individual rights and a strong defense," he said in a written response. "My concerns are for the freedom of individuals."
Jim Roddey, the Allegheny County Republican Party chairman and former county executive, said people were often surprised to learn that Mr. Scaife -- unlike some right-wing extremists -- was pro-choice and a supporter of gay marriage and legalization of marijuana. He also backed some Democrats he felt shared his viewpoints, such as the late Congressman John P. Murtha of Johnstown, and his generosity was far-reaching beyond the political world.
"His contributions to the community were for everyone, not just conservative politicians, and they've touched everyone, whether they realize it or not," said Mr. Roddey, who has served on the board of the Scaife Foundation. "The Scaife contributions to a variety of arts organizations and education have been large and generous and made a difference in the community."
Scaife was a piker compared to liberal moneymen like George Soros or Tom Steyer. But his contributions kept organizations in business and promoted conservative causes that blooded a genearation of activists.
He has been surpassed by people like the Koch brothers and Sheldeon Adelson who, in truth, have much deeper pockets than Scaife and seem more committed to conservative candidates. But Scaife's legacy has been secured by a stubborn streak of independence that brought him admirers on both sides of the aisle:
Best known for his support of conservative initiatives, Scaife considered himself a libertarian. He supported Planned Parenthood and same-sex marriage and opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
And he remained committed to ensuring that readers of his newspapers heard a diverse range of opinions and voices.
Duquesne University law professor Joe Mistick, long a figure in Pennsylvania Democratic circles, had a platform for his views in a weekly column in the Sunday Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“As a liberal Democrat, much of what I have written for the Trib over the years put me on the opposite side of Mr. Scaife and many of our readers. Not a word was ever changed or a column rejected. He provided a forum for all in service to society. It's a remarkable American life he led,” Mistick said.
Others weighed in via Twitter.
“Richard Scaife was a remarkable patriot, philanthropist and conservative activist. His passing today is a great loss to America,” tweeted former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
“RIP Dick Scaife. Great newspaperman. Set the highest standard. True patriot for first principles we honor today. Prayers for his family,” Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, tweeted.
Scaife gave money to conservatives when donating to conservative causes wasn't cool. For that alone, he should be remembered and honored.