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Decades of Contributions to Conservatism


By Ira Chinoy and Robert G. Kaiser

Over the past four decades Richard Mellon Scaife has contributed to hundreds of different organizations that in different ways have been pursuing the same goal: spreading the conservative faith while encouraging implementation of conservative policies.

Listed on this page are Scaife's "Top 40," the 40 conservative institutions, organizations and academic programs that have received the most grants from his trusts and foundations. Some of these grants went to support conservative scholars at programs affiliated with universities; others helped action-oriented groups promoting conservative policies, laws or judicial precedents.

Scaife's conservative causes can be divided into five broad categories, described below. Some groups fit into more than one category – the Heritage Foundation, for example, is a classical think tank sponsoring research; an activist organization promoting ideas on Capitol Hill and in the media; and a publisher, putting out its own conservative journal, Policy Review, every other month.

More details about Scaife's philanthropy can be found in the database The Washington Post assembled to record nearly 40 years of gifts made by the foundations and trusts Scaife has controlled. They can be found on the Internet at www.washingtonpost.com.

Activist Conservative Think Tanks

These are the groups that Scaife money has supported most generously. They tend to be aggressive, adept at public relations and often effective at promoting their agendas. David Abshire, a founder and longtime president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described CSIS as action-oriented, not "book-based." The Heritage Foundation spread its word through short policy papers, news releases and seminars designed to fill the needs (but not overburden the schedules) of Capitol Hill aides and reporters.

Sometimes think tanks can seize on an idea and push it onto the national agenda. One example is the success of the Cato Institute in promoting the idea of replacing Social Security with a privatized national pension system.

Scaife has been donating to big think thanks for four decades, but he recently launched a new kind of policy group in Pittsburgh, the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, which describes itself as "devoted exclusively to the study of local issues" in western Pennsylvania. In just five years it has become a forceful advocate for conservative alternatives to traditional city and county policies in areas ranging from education to trash removal and economic development.

The institute earned political influence by leading a campaign against a proposed half-penny increase in the sales tax to finance civic improvements, including new stadiums for the Steelers and Pirates. To the surprise of Pittsburgh's traditional ruling circles, voters defeated the tax in a November 1997 referendum. The losers blamed a public relations campaign orchestrated by Jerry Bowyer, president of the institute, which opposed the referendum as a fat cats' use of tax money for inappropriate purposes.

Bowyer has cast himself as an effective gadfly, appearing regularly on talk shows – including four he hosts himself – to promote his agenda of more privatization, more reliance on "faith-based social service organizations" to deliver help to the needy. He is now accepted as a civic leader in Pittsburgh. Just six years ago he was leading the National Reform Association, a branch of the Calvinist Reformed Presbyterian Church, crusading for creation of a "theocracy" in America – "Christocracy, the rule of Christ over the nation," he called it once.

Propagating the Faith

From his first years as a benefactor to the right, Scaife has supported educational activities of many kinds to popularize favored ideas or philosophies. For example, Scaife has given more than $8 million since 1970 to support the "law and economics" movement, which has left a deep imprint on American legal education and jurisprudence. The law and economics program at the University of Chicago and a famous program founded at the University of Miami and now part of the George Mason University Law School in Fairfax have received millions from Scaife. The founders of law and economics saw it as a crusade to bring the rigors of economic analysis to the law. Its early promoters were conservatives, many associated with the economics department at the University of Chicago. Over the years it has won broad acceptance in the legal profession as a sensible addition to legal education. The law and economics programs Scaife has supported retain a strong free-market bias friendly to business. Hundreds of federal judges have attended seminars – often in resort surroundings – on topics involving the interaction between law and the marketplace.

Another form of proselytizing is conducted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich. ALEC's members are predominantly conservative state legislators. The organization provides training, information and draft legislation to make them more effective. Of the country's 6,500 state legislators, 3,000 belong to ALEC, including dozens of leaders of state legislatures and senates. Twelve sitting governors are ALEC graduates, as are 77 members of Congress. The group's first president was a then-member of the Illinois House named Henry Hyde.

ALEC makes a mark with its model legislation. The last time it counted (1995-96), 132 ALEC bills were enacted in various states, from charter school legislation to pro-business bills on environmental and regulatory topics. Many states used its version of welfare reform legislation.

ALEC is unabashedly pro-business. Its expert task forces, which write the model legislation, are composed of legislators and business representatives. About two-thirds of ALEC's $6 million budget comes from corporate contributions.

Scaife has given ALEC more than $2 million since 1975, keeping the group alive in its early years. Now his donations ($75,000 last year) are an insignificant part of its budget.

Conservatism on Campus

Scaife's trusts and foundations have given at least $146 million to university programs over the last 40 years – the equivalent of $373 million in inflation-adjusted dollars. At least two-thirds of that was directed to supporting conservative intellectuals and funding research on topics of deep interest to conservatives.

Scaife has given tens of millions to favored academic departments, from the George Mason University department of economics (a bastion of free-market economic theory) to a now-defunct security studies program at New York University.

An organization dedicated to protecting conservative faculty members and critiquing politically correct academic behavior, the National Association of Scholars, has received at least $2.9 million since 1988. The Federalist Society, the home of conservatism in the nation's law schools and now a society uniting practicing lawyers and judges on the right, has received at least $1.5 million since 1984.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, founded in 1953 (first president: William F. Buckley Jr.) sustains an elaborate conservative network on America's college campuses. Through an organization called the Collegiate Network, ISI pays nearly all the costs of conservative publications on 60 campuses, from the well-known Dartmouth Review to the Sprigg Street Gazette at Southeast Missouri State University. ISI gives fellowships for graduate studies to promising young conservative scholars. Former fellows include Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; Edwin J. Feulner Jr., president of the Heritage Foundation; Rep. David M. McIntosh (R-Ind.); author Dinesh D'Souza and William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard.

ISI has a budget of about $5 million. Scaife's three principal foundations gave it and its affiliate, the Collegiate Network, $880,000 last year. Since the early '60s the two have been granted more than $7 million from Scaife sources.

'Public Interest' Law Firms

The Scaife trusts and foundations were instrumental in launching the conservative public interest law movement. Like many of the institutions on the right, these were created as mirror images of more liberal groups – the American Civil Liberties Union, the Natural Resources Defense Council and local activist law firms sponsored by the Legal Services Corp.

Scaife's first grants in this area were made in 1974 to the Pacific Legal Foundation. In its early years Scaife kept the PLF alive. Since the mid-'70s more than $20 million in Scaife money has gone to the conservative public interest law movement "on behalf of a market-oriented economics system, traditional property rights and limited government," in the words of an internal memo written by a Scaife aide in December 1980.

As the oldest and one of the biggest of these enterprises, the PLF now has a full-time staff of 18 attorneys and a budget of $5 million a year. It has won numerous big cases in California, including decisions upholding ballot initiatives ending state aid to illegal immigrants, banning affirmative action and replacing bilingual education with immersion in English. It is active in the property rights area and has won cases limiting the states' ability to regulate or expropriate private property. In Keller v. California State Bar, the PLF established a legal precedent that California lawyers could challenge the use of their dues to the state bar for political purposes.

The Southeastern Legal Foundation, another longtime Scaife beneficiary, won the Supreme Court case forbidding the Census Bureau from using a count of the population based on sampling techniques to allocate seats in the House of Representatives. Last October, it filed a motion in the Arkansas Supreme Court's committee on professional conduct seeking Bill Clinton's disbarment for lying under oath.

Minding the Media

Scaife has been subsidizing publications and broadcasts supporting conservative positions since his first grant to the American Spectator magazine in 1970. The Spectator has been the biggest recipient of this kind – $3.2 million for the magazine, plus nearly $2.3 million for the Arkansas Project. Scaife ended grants to the Spectator in 1997.

Scaife has supported the Public Interest and the National Interest, both associated with Irving Kristol, the neo-conservative intellectual; the New Criterion, a cultural review edited by Hilton Kramer, former New York Times art critic; Reason, the organ of the libertarian Reason Foundation; and Commentary, the monthly magazine of the American Jewish Committee, edited for years by Norman Podhoretz. All of these are published by tax-exempt, nonprofit foundations, so they are eligible to receive grants from Scaife's foundations. Scaife also gave money to Encounter magazine, once supported indirectly by the CIA. Altogether these publications have received nearly $10 million.

Scaife undertook one unusual media enterprise in his own name. In 1968, he agreed to replace John Hay Whitney, last owner of the New York Herald Tribune, as the head of the parent firm of Forum World Features, a London-based news agency that received subsidies and guidance from the CIA. The proprietor of Forum, Brian Crozier, has said he was introduced to Scaife by the CIA. Scaife has never spoken about this.

Scaife money has helped fund television documentaries on the economics of Milton Friedman, the guru of the monetarist school of free-market economics, and on Cold War themes. Scaife has supported creation of conservative textbooks and curricula for schools.

Scaife has had a long interest in groups that monitor and criticize the news media. He funded Gen. William C. Westmoreland's unsuccessful libel suit against CBS News. He has granted about $2 million to Accuracy in Media, a conservative critic of mainstream news media, since 1977. The Media Institute is another watchdog group he has backed.

In 1994-95 he gave $330,000 to the Western Journalism Center, which shared his skepticism about how former White House deputy counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr. died. But the center was cut off. "I have no idea why," said Joe Farah, president of the center. "The only explanation I ever got from [Scaife aide] Dick Larry was that they didn't have any more money. It didn't have the ring of truth."

1999 May 2