Sarah Scaife Foundation
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The Carthage Foundation, the Allegheny Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Scaife Family Foundations collectively comprise the Scaife Foundations. Primarily under the direction of Richard Mellon Scaife, the Scaife Foundations contributed more than $1 billion to charity over a fifty-year period, adjusted for inflation. The lion’s share of that money – about $620 million, according to Scaife – went towards “influencing American public affairs,” according to Jane Mayer’s 2016 book Dark Money. The money – given primarily to conservative causes – was a result of the Family’s founding interests in Mellon banking, Alcoa aluminum, and Gulf Oil. In Dark Money, Scaife was identified by a conservative reporter as the “originator” of hard-hitting conservative philanthropy.
Of the organizations, the Carthage Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation are the most politically active of the two, while the Allegheny Foundation mostly contributes to historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania, and the Scaife Family Foundation contributes to social welfare and animal cruelty organizations.
In addition to the foundations, the Scaife family was able to take advantage of a tax law (also used by the Koch brothers’ father, Fred) which allowed passing vast sums of money on to descendants untaxed, so long as the money was saved in trusts and interest received on that money was annually donated to charity for a period of time. (In Scaife’s words, “Isn’t it grand how tax law gets written?”) This set-up allowed Scaife to donate over a period of twenty years to a variety of conservative causes (and to his own family’s foundations which then donated the money to the conservative causes) using?? the interest on three trusts with more than $250 million dollars in combined assets.
The Sarah Scaife Foundation, Mayer writes, drawing from an unpublished autobiography by Richard Mellon Scaife, was formed just “days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It appears to have been timed to shelter the family’s wealth from anticipated tax increases.” The impetus in avoiding taxes would place the foundation among what amounts to a family tradition stemming from Andrew Mellon’s early battles against the income tax.
Scaife was an early benefactor of the Heritage Foundation, contributing more than $23 million from 1975 to 1998. In the 1990s, Scaife poured millions into a quixotic campaign against the Clintons. He made contributions of $2.4 million to the American Spectator magazine from 1993 through 1997, with $1.8 million dedicated to the “Arkansas Project,” the ultimate goal of which was to find scandalous “information about the activities of Mr. Clinton and his wife, Hillary, during their years in Arkansas.” Scaife became obsessed with various drummed-up (by his money) scandals during the Clinton years. Eventually Scaife’s obsession focused on the suicide of Clinton aide Vincent Foster, which he described as “the Rosetta Stone to the whole Clinton Administration.”
Scaithe eventually ended funding to the Spectator and vowed to never give the magazine another cent after it published a scathing review of a book by Christopher Ruddy which claimed Foster was murdered. Three independent investigations concluded Foster’s death was a suicide. At that point, the conspiracy theorizing and, along with it, Scaithe’s money moved to Accuracy in Media, which was still promoting the conspiracy theory as late as 2004. However, Scaife apparently befriended the Clintons later in life, with President Clinton eulogizing him at a memorial service and Ruddy indicating that Scaife believed that Clinton “had served the American people most ably as president.” Mayer indicates that Scaife’s “almost childlike impressionability” helped the thaw.
Prior to his funding of Heritage and the Spectator, Scaife “had been the largest donor to the American Enterprise Institute,” but switched his loyalty to Heritage given Heritage’s willingness to weigh in on political fights. In 1990, Mayer reports, Scaife personally pushed Heritage – despite his own checkered marital history – into focusing “more on conservative social and moral issues and in particular family values.” Scaife was also, for a time, the largest donor to the Manhattan Institute. Mayer writes, “The donations paid off, from Scaife’s viewpoint, when they helped launch the careers of the conservative social critic [Charles] Murray and the supply-side economics guru George Gilder, whose arguments against welfare programs and taxes had huge impacts.”
Edwin Meese III, President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general and a Heritage fellow, described Scaife as “the unseen hand” of the conservative movement. The Washington Post, in a 1999 profile, called him the “funding father” of the right, while confirming that, to that point, Scaife had contributed $620 million to “conservative causes and institutions.” The Post writes:
His money has established or sustained activist think tanks that have created and marketed conservative ideas from welfare reform to enhanced missile defense; public interest law firms that have won important court cases on affirmative action, property rights and how to conduct the national census; organizations and publications that have nurtured conservatism on American campuses; academic institutions that have employed and promoted the work of conservative intellectuals; watchdog groups that have critiqued and harassed media organizations, and many more.