National Commentary

The Lousy Legacy of Richard Mellon Scaife

Notorious right wing sugar daddy, Richard Mellon Scaife, has died. He was 82.

I’m sure he had a couple of good qualities and there are people who loved him. However, there are few villains who have been more destructive and done more damage to the cohesion of America than Richard Mellon Scaife. He used his vast billion-dollar fortune to dismantle our heritage, degrade our political unity, and destabilize America.

In 1964, Scaife supported Senator Barry M. Goldwater, who set the ugly direction for the GOP and cemented its radical creed when he proclaimed:

“Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Conservatives took this quote quite literally and ran with it – never looking back. The result is today’s crazy Republican Party and stubborn Tea Baggers who refuse to compromise. Thanks, Richard Mellon Scaife, for using your money to give Barry Goldwater and his intransigent heirs a platform.

In 1972, Scaife gave $1 million to President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign. This included $45,000 to a clandestine fund that was tied to Watergate. Thanks, Richard Mellon Scaife, for bringing us the corrupt Nixon, as well as his divisive Southern strategy, which used racial code words to incite people in Dixie.

In the 1980s, Scaife supported Ronald Reagan who brought us disastrous deregulation, elevated the Moral Majority, ignored AIDS, and gave us voodoo economics. (No offense to voodoo)

The philanthropist went on to strategically build a right wing infrastructure that became known as the “conservative movement.” Unlike normal advocacy that worked to improve America, this strange, peculiar offshoot, created an alternative, fictitious universe that abhorred facts and fractured national consensus. It forged a parallel narrative and a dangerous vision for this nation.

This right wing Daddy Warbucks also bankrolled the rise of neo-conservatism. Thanks, Mr. Scaife, for the $3 trillion dollar Iraq war that has broken the bank and shattered the Middle East.

Scaife, however, was most notorious for his single-minded effort to destroy Bill Clinton – no matter how much money it took to do so. In the process, he brought the nation to the brink and set us on a partisan collision course that we are still on. His maniacal campaign to bring down a sitting president – showed how one troubled rich guy with low morals, no regard for truth, and an axe to grind could nearly topple the most powerful man in the world.

Remember when Hillary Clinton got on national television and spoke of a “vast right wing conspiracy”? She was talking about the campaign waged by Richard Mellon Scaife.

During the Clinton presidency, he dumped millions of dollars into the Arkansas Project, financing bogus investigations against the Clintons in conservative publications such as the American Spectator and his own Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The mainstream media, hungry to fill time on cable news and appear fair and balanced, picked up these stories and helped spread the blatant misinformation. This unseemly attack on President Clinton consumed the nation’s energies and kept us from moving forward. We have yet to fully recover.

Scaife’s vindictive obsession led to a cascade of frivolous pseudo-scandals that included the botched Whitewater real estate deal, the Paula Jones affair, and the ridiculous allegation that the Clintons murdered White House counsel Vince Foster, with multiple investigations showing he actually committed suicide.

This well-oiled campaign finally struck gold when it indirectly led to Monica Lewinsky. Thanks to Scaife, the nation’s business was put on hold, as we were treated to a parade of clownish characters like the back stabber, Linda Tripp, and the prurient prosecutor Ken Starr.

Although the Religious Right claims to abhor x-rated material, they introduced every school age kid in the country to the pressing national debate over whether oral sex was actually sex – or just foreplay. We were also treated to the invasive Starr Report – the prosecutor’s immature, sexually stunted soft-core porn – masquerading as a legal memo.

The end result of this puritanical charade was the president’s impeachment by the House on perjury and obstruction of justice charges and his acquittal by the Senate. As a side note, the impeachment brought down several Republican hypocrites – such as Rep. Bob Livingston and Newt Gingrich, who also had extramarital affairs of their own.

Speaking of hypocrites, Scaife, who funded many intrusive Family Values crusades, was reported to be a raging drunkard and was divorced twice.

Again, I don’t mean to besmirch the dead, but Richard Mellon Scaife nearly ruined this country – and still may yet. He set the template for the Koch brothers and other foundations, such as Coors, Bradley, the National Christian Foundation, and Howard Ahmanson.

If you want to know why America is politically polarized as never before? Think Richard Mellon Scaife. While he may or may not rest in peace, America hasn’t had a moment of peace since the moment he opened his wallet to catapult conservative crackpots into the mainstream.


Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”