When the editor of American Spectator magazine decided in late 1993 that he wanted to dig deep into the political muck of Arkansas for dirt on President Clinton, he phoned reclusive right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.
The call netted the American Spectator $1.7 million in Scaife foundation grants over the next four years and helped the magazine produce stories about alleged philandering, corruption and cover-ups during Clinton’s governorship.
The money appears in Scaife foundation reports as grants to an unspecified American Spectator “special project.” On the magazine’s reports, it shows up as legal fees.
For first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, deals like this are part of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to get the president. Certainly, Scaife’s the biggest contributor to many groups attacking the Clintons. He’s also a free-spending believer that deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster met with foul play when he died in 1993, and that Arkansas state employee Paula Jones met with an unwelcome advance from Clinton.
But Clinton’s meetings with intern Monica Lewinsky were initiated by him or by her, not by any right-wing conspirators. And Scaife’s campaign against the Clintons probably looks to people who don’t care for the first couple like legitimate, if aggressive, opposition.
What Scaife, 65, heir to Pittsburgh-based fortunes in banking, oil and aluminum, indisputably has done is pump $200 million since the 1960s into more conservative groups than Newt Gingrich could name at one sitting.
Most are pillars of the conservative policy establishment like the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute. But Scaife (whose name rhymes with “safe”) also has backed some real street fighters who have done their best to hang trouble around the Clintons’ necks and keep it there.
American Spectator magazine, which has speculated that Clinton governs under the influence of cocaine and depicted Hillary Clinton as a broomstick-riding witch, is one example.
Accuracy in Media, ardent challengers of findings that Foster committed suicide, is another. In 1996, the latest year for which complete information is available, Scaife foundations provided $400,000 of AIM’s $1.3 million in revenues.
Sometimes Scaife-aided groups work together. That was evident in 1994 after the Spectator published stories of Arkansas state troopers who said they had arranged liaisons with women for Clinton when he was governor.
The mainstream press largely ignored the story, so in April 1994 Accuracy in Media took out ads in the Washington Post and the New York Times that scolded the newspapers ignoring the Spectator’s work and reproduced its choicest tidbits.
A month later, one of the women, Paula Jones, decided to sue Clinton. Her lawyer, Daniel Traylor, got free advice and an offer of free, expert co-counsel from the Landmark Legal Foundation, a conservative Kansas City-based civil liberties group. Of Landmark’s $909,000 in 1995 revenues, Scaife foundations provided $440,000.
One fact may slow conspiracy buffs: Jones found new lawyers without taking Landmark up on its offer.
The Free Congress Research and Education Foundation Inc., to which Scaife has contributed more than $6 million in the last 10 years, also tried to help Jones and her lawyers. It rented a billboard in Arkansas to urge women who believed they’d been harassed by Clinton to call a toll-free number.
Are Scaife or Richard Larry, president of the Sarah Scaife Foundation and treasurer of the Carthage Foundation - the two most politically active Scaife entities - coordinating an anti-Clinton campaign? They’re not talking about any aspect of Hillary Clinton’s conspiracy allegations.
“This whole thing is so silly that we’re not going to dignify it by commenting on it,” said Yale Gutnick, Scaife’s personal lawyer, in a telephone interview.
Nonetheless, others with cases against the Clintons have been offered legal help by Scaife-aided nonprofits. Retired FBI Agent Gary Aldrich, for example, whose White House assignment was the basis of “Unlimited Access,” a best-seller about drugs, sex and irreverence in the Clinton White House, needed Justice Department clearance to publish the book.
Aldrich, nearly broke, turned to the Southeastern Legal Foundation in Atlanta. Southeastern paid for “several hundred thousand dollars” worth of legal help.
A Scaife foundation contributed $50,000 to Southeastern’s $624,000 in receipts in 1996. Sometimes it seems that Scaife’s name comes up merely because he’s helped nearly every conservative cause. Thus, every time anyone scores against Clinton, he’s linked to it, like a bettor with money on every horse.
There’s also a Scaife link to Pepperdine University in California, whose faculty Starr announced he was joining when he toyed last year with stepping down as independent counsel. Pepperdine has gotten $12 million from Scaife foundations, including $1.1 million for the school of public policy that Starr was to head. The offer is still open, a university spokesman said last week, at a salary he declined to disclose.
Two long anti-Clinton campaigns that Scaife has bankrolled confirm that he’s at least sometimes been at war with this president, personally. One is the American Spectator’s Arkansas investigation. The other is the Vincent Foster case.
Although FBI investigators, two independent counsels and two congressional committees have concluded that Foster shot himself in a suburban Virginia park on a hot afternoon in July 1993, Scaife has rejected their findings. Indeed, between 1994 and 1997 Scaife had a reporter pursuing the Foster case full time at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a suburban-based newspaper Scaife owns.
The reporter, Christopher Ruddy, explored inconsistencies in police and medical reports on Foster’s death. He added unproven speculations about Israeli intelligence, hideaway apartments and unsubstantiated rumors that Hillary Clinton had an affair with Foster.
It’s hardly flawless work. (Why did Foster die with his gun in his left hand when he was right-handed? Ruddy argues. Actually, Foster was left-handed.) Nonetheless, Ruddy in 1996 won the first “Courage in Journalism Award” from the Western Journalism Center in Sacramento.
The Journalism Center also has paid for Washington Times ads reprinting Ruddy’s stories, and for ads in the New York Times and other leading newspapers, criticizing them for ignoring Ruddy’s work. In 1995, a Scaife foundation donated $230,000 of the center’s total receipts of $501,318. Its sole mission, according to founder and director Joseph Farah, is questioning the official Foster findings.
While other Scaife-backed groups like Accuracy In Media also have pushed Foster conspiracies, American Spectator columnist John Corry balked last December at Ruddy’s new book, “The Strange Death of Vincent Foster.” Corry dismissed Ruddy as “a very heavy breather” and ridiculed his dependence on anonymous sources and insinuations.
In an acrid response, Scaife phoned Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell and told him he’d get no more Scaife money. Scaife’s break with the Spectator came shortly after its publisher for 30 years, Ron Burr, began questioning Scaife’s extravagant and covert Clinton investigation. Burr, fired by Tyrrell over the matter, has reached a settlement with the magazine that bars him from discussing the Scaife grants, which averaged more than $400,000 a year.
Washington lawyer Stephen Boynton, who got the money, according to American Spectator Foundation records, referred questions to Terry Eastland, the magazine’s new publisher.
Boynton, according to a well-placed source at the magazine, was paid a $12,000-a-month retainer. David Henderson, a member of the magazine foundation’s board close to Scaife foundation executive Richard Larry, got $10,000 a month, plus expenses.
Neither was a reporter, but both had good connections in Arkansas. Boynton had practiced there; Henderson once had worked as PR director for David Hale, a figure in Arkansas Democratic politics when Clinton was governor and an important source for reporters - and the independent counsel.
Boynton and Henderson never wrote a word. Spectator reporters got their tips and wrote stories based on them if they panned out. Many did, according to the Spectator’s Arkansas expert James Ring Adams.
Whether Boynton or Henderson identified themselves as reporters, or did things reporters generally cannot do, like pay sources, is not certain.