Richard Mellon Scaife was the “epitome of a libertarian,” or at least, that’s how he was described in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review following his death on July 4. “Libertarian Scaife” is apparently how he wished to be remembered in the city where many of the landmarks bear his famous family’s name. But Scaife’s redefinition as a libertarian is belied by his decades of funding, including as funder of the architect of the religious and political right alliance and religio-political think tanks.
The libertarian portrayal of Scaife in the newspaper that he owned, including quotes from his long-time lawyer describing him as the defender of “free speech, freedom of the press, the separation of church and state, a woman’s right to choose, and other individual liberties,” is in contrast with “Citizen Scaife,” the title of the Columbia Journalism Review’s multi-part 1981 profile. The series portrayed Scaife as a “funding father” of the emerging New Right.
At that time, the foundations Scaife controlled were the leading source of seed money for two dozen New Right organizations, and funding for neoconservative military and intelligence think tanks.
And there is another not-so-libertarian legacy of Scaife’s funding that was not mentioned in most of his obituaries.
“LIBERTARIAN SCAIFE” EMPOWERED THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT
He did not do it alone, nor was he the first plutocrat to fund the enlistment of amenable religious leaders as partners to roll back the New Deal, or to make use of John Birch Society-style Christian Nationalism to attack unions and the regulatory system.
Today’s constitutional conservatism is a curious marriage of Ayn Rand-style economics to social conservatism, or even a biblical worldview in which American law is to align with biblical law. The plus for plutocratic funders is that this biblical worldview also portrays the Bible as aligned with free market fundamentalism.
That list covers more than a half century and has included Sun Oil’s J. Howard Pew, textile magnate Roger Milliken, and Fred Koch. But few have been better at the behind-the-scenes funding of this partnership than Scaife. The outcome of his actions? An empowered Religious Right, who today prefer the term “constitutional conservative” to describe their wing of the GOP.
The Scaife-controlled foundations—the Sarah Scaife, Allegheny, and Carthage Foundations, run from the 39th floor of the Oxford Centre in Pittsburgh—are at least partially responsible for the consummation of this plutocratic/theocratic partnership. The enigmatic Scaife’s personal activism sometimes conflicted with the unruly offspring of his foundation’s largesse.
Evidence includes a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal in 2011, with a letter by Scaife calling for conservatives to oppose efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. His passing is an opportunity to ask why Scaife and other billionaires have helped to empower, whether intentionally or not, this theocratic-minded offspring that will long outlive them.
Richard Viguerie, leading patriarch of the Religious Right,told a Heritage Foundation audience in April that he was more optimistic than ever that “constitutional conservatives” could take over the Republican Party by 2017. Viguerie insisted that their agenda must go beyond rolling back the New Deal and return to a pre-Teddy Roosevelt era, and that the enemy was establishment Republicans like Rep. Eric Cantor. Viguerie suggested that Sen. Rand Paul (R) be given the vice presidential slot on the 2016 ticket in order to bring libertarians on board—not really much of a concession since Paul has himself rejected the libertarian label in the past for that of “constitutional conservative” (and is described as the standard bearer of that movement by his former aid and ghost writer Jack Hunter, a.k.a. the “Southern Avenger”).
Scaife was not a direct funder of Religious Right institutions that are household names (that was left to families like Prince/DeVos and Coors), but he was a major funder of the late Paul Weyrich, shepherd of the Religious Right into GOP politics, and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the Council for National Policy. Described as the “Robespierre of the Right,” for his purges of the insufficiently conservative, Weyrich left the Heritage Foundation and started what would become the Free Congress Foundation (FCF). Scaife, who had supplied the bulk of the seed money for Heritage and served as vice president of the board until his death, also funded Weyrich’s FCF—sometimes to the tune of over a million dollars a year.
This included in 2001, when the FCF published the manifesto “Integration of Theory and Practice,” calling for a new traditionalist movement of conservatives and right-leaning libertarians, and the following.
“Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them. We will endeavor to knock our opponents off-balance and unsettle them at every opportunity. All of our constructive energies will be dedicated to the creation of our own institutions.”
In a 2005 CSPAN interview about his career, Weyrich said that he could not have done what he did without the help of Dick Scaife.
Before Scaife paved the way with millions of dollars for conservative infrastructure, the St. Louis Post Dispatch noted, “there was a world where extremist ideas weren’t repackaged as mainstream by outfits like the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, Judicial Watch, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Cato Institute or the Federalist Society.”
And Scaife did not stop there. He funded the building of new institutions, but also the destroying of old ones. He extended his impact on American religion by funding entities that undermined denominations and marginalized religious leaders not so amenable to rightwing politics.
CHURCH & SCAIFE
The Scaife foundations funded the institute that published the First Things magazine of leading neoconservative Father Richard John Neuhaus, and the closely allied Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD)—jokingly referred to during the Reagan administration as “the official seminary of the White House.”
A 2004 exposé by the late Methodist pastor Andrew Weaver was titled “Church & Scaife: Secular Conservative Philanthropies Waging Unethical Campaign to Take Over United Methodist Church.” Weaver described IRD as a pseudo-religious, neo-conservative organization with a goal of undermining the liberal, social and economic justice mission of mainline Protestant denominations. Christian Century exposed the fact that 89 percent of IRD’s early funding came from three foundations, and the largest block from the Scaife foundations. Infiltration of the Mainline Protestant denominations came in the guise of renewal groups, as described by PRA fellow Frederick Clarkson, also featured in the documentary “Renewal or Ruin.”
The largest single block of funding for think tanks promoting climate change denial has come from Donors Trust, according to a 2013 study by Drexel University, but a close second is the Scaife foundations at over $39 million dollars (well ahead of the funding from the Koch Brothers’ foundations).
Merging plutocratic interests with religion has been key to promoting climate change denial, including in the 2010 DVD series “Resisting the Green Dragon,” a product of the Cornwall Alliance. The 12-part teaching series, used in churches nationwide and featuring major Religious Right leaders, claims that environmentalism is a religion in opposition to Christianity. Funding is hidden behind Donors Trust, but the Cornwall Alliance is a project of the James Partnership, founded by E. Calvin Beisner, a fellow with several Scaife-funded entities, including the Atlas Economic Research Institute, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, and IRD.
The irreligious Scaife’s molding of religion into the image of right-wing politics was not limited to Christianity. As reported by the Washington Post, Scaife provided the seed money for former Reagan State Department official Elliot Abrams’ 1997 book “Faith or Fear.” Sponsorship of the book was suggested by the president of the Hudson Institute and reportedly prompted by Scaife’s concern that most American Jews remain politically liberal.
Islam and immigrants provided a different type of target. The Scaife foundations are major funders of anti-immigrant organizations, but are outspent by Colcom, the leading funder of anti-immigrant causes in the U.S. and founded by Scaife’s sister.
Institutionalized Islamophobia was exposed in PRA’s research report Manufacturing the Muslim Menace, and in Fear, Inc. by the Center for American Progress, with the latter citing the Scaife foundations as the largest single source.
THE PENNSYLVANIA PLAN
Partnership between free market fundamentalism and religion was extended to the state level through a network of Heritage Foundation-style think tanks in all 50 states. These are linked through the State Policy Network and ALEC, but also work at the state level with a network of about three dozen state Family Policy Councils, loosely affiliated with the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family. This infrastructure is described in The Public Eye articles from 1999 and 2013, including coverage of the “Pennsylvania Plan” model of Don Eberly. Eberly was founder of both the Commonwealth Foundation and the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which work on shared agendas like school privatization.
In a 1989 speech to the Heritage Foundation, Eberly described the need for initiating both free market and religious tanks at the state and local levels. The Scaife foundations provide funding for both the Commonwealth Foundation and the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a similar think tank for the Pittsburgh area.
Scaife’s legacy in Pennsylvania includes an aggressive assault on labor unions. A PRA report titled “The Well-Funded Anti-Labor Arsenal” tracked $170 million dollars to major anti-union think tanks across the nation over 20 years, where the Scaife foundations provided the largest single block of funding. In 2013, the Commonwealth Foundation launched “Project Goliath,” a plan described with biblical terminology to follow in the footsteps of Wisconsin and Michigan to destroy Pennsylvania’s labor unions.
THE ENIGMATIC SCAIFE
The libertarian Scaife has been portrayed in obituaries as less zealous in his later years, but the Scaife foundations’ reports show no backing away from right-wing causes, and the efforts to redefine him in his obituaries fail to negate his role as the “funding father” of modern conservatism. Quoting a column in the St. Louis Post Dispatch,
“Without those early Scaife-paid efforts, there might have been no Fox News, no tea party, no Sarah Palin or Ted Cruz. …Without the Federalist Society, whose members include four justices of the Supreme Court, there would be no corporate personhood decisions like Citizens United and Hobby Lobby.”
I would add that without Scaife’s funding, we might not now live in a nation where the interests of a few plutocratic billionaires successfully masquerade as religion.
Two foundations that have been described as “the dark money ATM of the right” have spent more than $1 million combined funding a non-profit organization whose primary function is distributing libertarian education materials featuring Fox Business host John Stossel.
Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, the affiliated funding groups, were until recently obscure entities. But over the past month a series of reports havedetailed how those organizations have paid out more than $400 million to over 1,000 conservative groups since their 1999 founding. Those reports have described how the two organizations have allowed wealthy individuals to discreetly underwrite trending conservative causes likeclimate change denial.
The groups have also been the primary funders behind an effort to flood American classrooms with packaged libertarian lessons branded with John Stossel’s mustachioed face. In 2011, Donors Trust gave $540,000 to the Philadelphia-based Center for Independent Thought (CIT), with the funds earmarked for the distribution of “Stossel in the Classroom” teaching materials, according to IRS filings obtained by Mother Jones.
"Stossel in the Classroom" began in 1999 when Stossel was still with ABC News. It was seeded with financial support from the libertarian Palmer R. Chitester Fund and grew slowly until CIT took over the program in the mid-2000s.
CIT was a natural home for “Stossel in the Classroom.” Founded with Koch money as the Libertarian Review Foundation in the 1970s, real estate developer Howard Rich took control of the organization in 1990 and gave it its current name. Rich is part of the libertarian donor elite, founded Americans for Limited Government, and sits on the board at Cato, the Club for Growth, and the Friedman Center for Educational Choice. (Rich’s wife, Andrea, runs CIT, but does not draw a salary.)
At the same time the group took over “Stossel,” new right-wing funding began flowing into its coffers. While Donors Trust was its main sponsor in 2011, it has also received money from Donors Capital Fund ($500,000 from 2007 to 2010) and foundations linked to the Koch brothers.
The purpose of groups like Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund is to allow wealthy benefactors to support conservative causes anonymously. The Tides Foundation is a liberal analogue, donating millions of dollars to left-leaning groups (including Media Matters). According to Mother Jones, whose non-profit arm has also received Tides funding, “Donors Trust’s strategic intent is far narrower and more coherent than Tides’. The groups funded by Donors Trust more or less pursue the same agenda—eliminate regulations, kneecap unions, shrink government, and transfer more power to the private sector.”
The Center for Public Integrity produced this graphic detailing the flow of money in recent years from Koch-backed and other right-wing foundations through Donors Trust to a variety of conservative groups:
CIT’s funders — whoever they are — will find nothing in their program’s activities to make them question their investment in helping produce the next generation of libertarians.
The new caretakers built a slick new website, archived more videos spanning Stossel’s career, instituted a professional organization of requests and distribution, and began producing specially designed economics DVDs and teaching guides.
The program now offers hundreds of free clips from Stossel’s shows and specials that claim to seriously address a range of academic subjects, including Art (“Why does Hollywood Hate Capitalism?”), Biology ("Debunking Food Myths"), and History (“The Real Story of Thanksgiving,” which explains “how the Pilgrims were hurt by sharing”).
"Stossel in the Classroom" also produces libertarian economics courses. The small team of economists that writes materials such as “Making Economics Come Alive with John Stossel” has multiple close ties to the Stavros Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Economic Education at Florida State University.
The videos on the site are stacked with pundits echoing Stossel’s radical laissez-faire views. A typical lesson pairs videos of Fox Business pundits tearing into a regulatory effort — a video on the 2011 health care law features serial liar Betsy McCaughey and industrial-fan entrepreneur Bob Luddy — with teacher’s guides that ask if government regulation is necessary.
Working out of an nondescript brick rowhouse in suburban Virginia, a little-known organization named Donors Trust, staffed by five employees, has steered hundreds of millions of dollars to the most influential think tanks, foundations, and advocacy groups in the conservative movement. Over the past decade, it has funded the right’s assault on labor unions, climate scientists, public schools, economic regulations, and the very premise of activist government. Yet unlike its nearest counterpart on the progressive side, the Tides Foundation, a bogeyman of Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, Donors Trust has mostly avoided any real scrutiny. It is the dark-money ATM of the right.
Founded in 1999, Donors Trust (and an affiliated group, Donors Capital Fund) has raised north of $500 million and doled out $400 million to more than 1,000 conservative and libertarian groups, according to Whitney Ball, the group’s CEO. Donors Trust allows wealthy contributors who want to donate millions to the most important causes on the right to do so anonymously, essentially scrubbing the identity of those underwriting conservative and libertarian organizations. Wisconsin’s 2011 assault on collective bargaining rights? Donors Trust helped fund that. ALEC, the conservative bill mill? Donors Trust supports it. The climate deniers at the Heartland Institute? They get Donors Trust money, too.
Donors Trust is not the source of the money it hands out. Some 200 right-of-center funders who’ve given at least $10,000 fill the group’s coffers. Charities bankrolled by Charles and David Koch, the DeVoses, and the Bradleys, among other conservative benefactors, have given to Donors Trust. And other recipients of Donors Trust money include the Heritage Foundation, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the NRA’s Freedom Action Foundation, the Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Federalist Society, and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, chaired (PDF) by none other than David Koch.
In a recent interview, Ball, who calls herself a libertarian, went to great lengths to stress that she’s no Koch brothers stooge, and that Donors Trust is not yet another appendage of the almighty "Kochtopus." She insists, “We were not created by them at all.”
Donors Trust is a so-called "donor-advised fund," a breed apart from a family foundation like, say, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which helped build the conservative movement over decades with donations totaling tens of millions of dollars. The people who donate to Donors Trust don’t get final say over how their money is spent. But they get to recommend where their cash goes, and in exchange for giving up some control, they get a bigger tax write-off than they would with a family foundation. (And those who wish it get anonymity.)
Ball says she travels all over the country courting wealthy conservatives and libertarians, and attends Koch donor retreats and Cato “shareholder” meetings. The crux of her pitch is this: Rich folks can give to Donors Trust and rest easy knowing that their millions will continue bankrolling the conservative movement long into the future, even after their death.
Donors Trust grew out of the fear among right-leaning donors that their family foundations might end up in the hands of those who would fund centrist or, even worse, left-of-center causes. At the behest of the late Bruce Jacobs, a Seattle-area businessman and “paleocon” who didn’t want to underwrite a local community foundation, Ball and a conservative strategist named Kimberly Dennis created Donors Trust.
Donors Trust is the only honey-pot of its kind for right-leaning donors. But on the left, there’s theTides Foundation, which gives out tens of millions of dollars each year to thousands of left-leaning groups in the US and overseas (including Mother Jones' nonprofit arm, the Foundation for National Progress). Tides is a target of conspiracy theorists such as TV and radio host Glenn Beck, who hasfeatured Tides on his infamous connect-the-dots chalkboard. But Donors Trust’s strategic intent is far narrower and more coherent than Tides’. The groups funded by Donors Trust more or less pursue the same agenda—eliminate regulations, kneecap unions, shrink government, and transfer more power to the private sector.
Donors Trust keeps its contributors secret. Funders can ask Donor Trust to publicly identify their donations, but very few do, Ball says. The reasons for preferring anonymity are many. Some donors want to avoid attention; others don’t want their mailboxes and inboxes filling up with unwanted solicitations for more money.
Tax records, however, reveal some of the sugar-daddies of the conservative and libertarian movement who funnel big money through Donors Trust. The Knowledge and Progress Fund, a charity bankrolled by Charles Koch, gave $2 million in 2010. The DeVos family charity, another pillar of conservative politics, contributed $1 million in 2009 and $1.5 million in 2010. And yet another long-time bankroller of conservative politics, the Bradley family, donated $650,000 through their charity between 2001 and 2010.
h/t: Mother Jones