The Lord giveth, and the good Lord taketh away. Far Right Pittsburgh-area philanthropist, heir to the Mellon banking fortune, primary financial backer of the anti-Clinton "Arkansas Project" (and later surprise Hillary Clinton supporter), Richard Mellon Scaife has passed.
Scaife died at home, just a day or so after turning 82.
"Dickie" or "Dick" Scaife — as he was known to his friends and some of his more condescending enemies — was many things to many people, having lived a full, complex life that many of us (especially those of us who have never inherited more than $500 million, in 1965 USD, during our early 30s) could completely understand.
That being said, he will most likely be remembered as the wealthy newspaper owner who gave American political culture a bunch a ridiculous horseshit like Paula Jones and Troopergate in the 1990s, funding the early career of "journalist" David Brock in the process — before that sidewinder turned coat and founded Media Matters. During the 2008 election, Scaife suddenly came around on the Clintons, supporting Hillary in her Democratic primary bid for the presidency. One's life is full of mysteries. Here is the New York Times on the early swath of Scaife's time as an influential conservative donor:
In his first foray into national politics, in 1964, Mr. Scaife backed Senator Barry M. Goldwater, the Arizona Republican, who lost his presidential bid in a landslide. In 1972, Mr. Scaife gave $1 million to the re-election war chest of President Richard M. Nixon, including $45,000 to a secret fund linked to the Watergate scandal. And in the 1980s, Mr. Scaife ardently supported Ronald Reagan's presidency.
But, disillusioned by Watergate and Nixon, he switched his focus from officeholders to ideologies, and his influence in the rise of neoconservatism stemmed primarily from his contributions to think tanks, lobbyists and publications that promoted free-market economics, lower taxes, smaller government and cuts in social welfare programs. Beneficiaries included the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and Judicial Watch.
A fascinating thing about this trajectory is how much it is paralleled in the funding history of mustache-twirling billionaire Libertarians Charles and David Koch who, after a failed attempt to turn the Libertarian party into a force during the 1980 presidential election, also turned their money spigots farther upstream into the World of Ideas.
Perhaps, one day, there will come an obituary about a billionaire political philanthropist who has devoted his (or her) vast resources to dictionaries, and English teachers, and quietly influencing how Americans even think up those ideas in the first place.
If you are of a certain political persuasion, and would like to make yourself mad, you can also listen to these eulogies delivered by conservative direct-mail kingpin Richard Art Viguerie, and Christopher Ruddy, a former Scaife employee who is now the CEO of Newsmax Media. They come in the form of interviews that seem to needlessly dominate this obituary segment on NPR's All Things Considered.
It's a weird thing. But, if you recall that controversy about the Kochs' $23 million donation to public television altering an Alex Gibney documentary, then it will not seem as weird.
Scaife is survived by his son, daughter, and two grandchildren, all of whom surely have names.
[lightly filtered image of Scaife holding his first Sunday edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review via the Tribune-Review file. His full ensemble in this is a sight to see.]