Ghost of the Past? Hardly: Scaife's Philanthropic Empire Is Thriving

Richard Mellon Scaife made his name first as a bankroller of Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign and later as a muckraking adversary of Bill Clinton. As he ages, he plays a less active role in the foundations he launched, but that hasn’t diminished their roles as some of the most prominent funders of conservative causes. Indeed, with their endowments growing, these foundations are giving out as much money as ever, if not more. 

Scaife’s stable of foundations draw on the wealth he inherited from his mother’s family, the Mellons, a prominent clan in Pittsburgh’s political and financial worlds. He serves as chairman of three separate foundations, and while each one is billed as having its own unique focus, they all provide significant sources of support to conservative intellectuals and advocates.

The largest sum of money is dedicated to the organization bearing the name of Scaife’s mother, Sarah. The Sarah Scaife Foundation doled out $13.4 million in 2012 to a wide range of universities, think tanks, and advocacy organizations. It's hard to think of a conservative policy group that didn't get something from this funder. Among the largest beneficiaries were the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis. 

Meanwhile, the Carthage Foundation is the smallest of Scaife’s funds, with investments totaling just over $30 million in market value as of 2012. This foundation is used mostly to support a small number of favored organizations; for example, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Both receive regular support from Carthage. It also supports a handful of other groups each year if they meet the criteria for work that addresses major political issues.

The Allegheny Foundation is billed as a different kind of Scaife fund. It is aimed at supporting causes that are unique to western Pennsylvania, especially those that benefit women and children, animal welfare, addiction, and private-sector-led (as opposed to government-mandated) environmental conservation. Recent grantees have included a $50,000 grant for a railroad museum and a $25,000 grant for a group that plants and protects trees in Pittsburgh.

But don't be fooled: Allegheny, too, gives to conservative causes. For example, it gave a $150,000 grant in 2012 to the David Horowitz Freedom Center. It's also given to the American Legislative Exchange Council.

If you’re looking for a common thread between these foundations, you won’t find it in any specific policy. Scaife’s foundations are less interested in promoting any specific causes than in advancing a conservative ideological agenda overall. 

The key staff person behind these foundations is Michael W. Gleba, a conservative lawyer who's deeply immersed in the right-wing infrastructure, sitting on the boards over the years of groups such as the Hoover Institution. 

Scaife’s children, Jennie and David, also control foundations created with the family’s wealth. But while Jennie, who controls the Scaife Family Foundation, has in the past funded conservative groups, she has become almost exclusively a supporter of animal welfare and other humanitarian issues. David’s foundation takes a similar approach, supporting causes like health research and youth development.

Still, considering the generous assortment of foundations and resources they control, the Scaifes’ influence on politics and policy isn’t likely to wane anytime soon.