Sarah Scaife Foundation

The Sarah Scaife Foundation is the last vestige of Richard Mellon Scaife’s nonprofit empire.

About Sarah Scaife Foundation

The Sarah Scaife Foundation, now under the stewardship of right-wing operatives following Scaife’s passing in 2014, continues to be a major player in the conservative movement.

The Sarah Scaife Foundation is the last vestige of Richard Mellon Scaife’s nonprofit empire. Scaife was a billionaire who was described as “funding father of the right” by the Washington Post. Scaife was known for his brand of conspiratorial politics, particularly his fascination with the anti-Clinton conspiracies, and for his deep ties to the conservative movement. An heir to the Mellon industrial, oil and banking fortune, Richard assumed control of a handful of family nonprofits in 1973 including the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which was funded by oil company stock. 

Richard utilized his nonprofits to “fund the creation of the modern conservative movement” in the post-Nixon era, according to historians. The Washington Post said Scaife’s giving had “a disproportionate impact on the rise of the right, [and is] perhaps the biggest story in American politics in the last quarter of the 20th century.” As Scaife himself wrote: “It might be too much praise, but it doesn’t bother me at all to be thought the ‘father’ of right-wing think-tanks – that is, conservatively oriented policy research organizations.”

The Sarah Scaife Foundation, now under the stewardship of right-wing operatives following Scaife’s passing in 2014, continues to be a major player in the conservative movement.

Richard Melon Scaife (1932-2014), Founder

Richard Melon Scaife built a vast right-wing network that fundamentally shaped the politics of the second half of the 20th century. The Washington Post said Scaife’s network was “perhaps the biggest story in American politics in the last quarter of the 20th century. Yet, Scaife himself was rather private. An obituary claimed he didn’t want a school or building named for him as his closest advisors stressed the importance of secrecy and security to him.

Scaife was an heir to the industrial Mellon Family Fortune. When Forbes made its first list of the wealthiest Americans in 1957, Richard’s uncle, mother, and his mother’s two cousins were among the eight richest people in the country. Richard’s father, Alan Scaife, was an heir to a smaller industrial fortune that he mismanaged into the ground. Alan was, according to an editor of a newspaper he frequently wrote letters to, “terribly worried about inherited wealth, apparently feeling that you have to be Republican to stay rich.” When Alan passed away in 1958, the Mellons were not keen to let Richard into the family businesses. Instead he undertook roles on various family boards and foundations.

When his mother died in 1965, Richard inherited her family trusts, which were set to expire in 1985, and was given even greater control over their four nonprofits: The Alleghany Foundation, The Scaife Family Foundation, The Carthage Foundation, and the Sarah Scaife Mellon Foundation. Scaife primarily used the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Carthage foundation to fund his conservative activism, but also utilized the Scaife Family Foundation and the Alleghany Foundation in limited capacities.

According to friend and founder of hate group the Center For Security Policy, Frank Gaffney Jr, Richard Scaife was interested in the “battle of ideas.” Disenchanted with electoral politics after Watergate, Scaife began to build a network of think tanks, public interest law firms, lobbies, policy mills, right-wing watchdogs, and media groups to ensure this “battle of ideas” was won by conservatives.  

Scaife was interested in politics from a young age. He was a fan of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, a founder of the modern conservative movement, and was disappointed by Goldwater’s resounding defeat in the 1964 presidential election

Scaife first came into the public eye as a financial backer of Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign. When a newspaper exposed that Scaife donated $990,000 to Nixon by sending 330 individual $3,000 checks to 330 dummy addresses assigned to different political committees, he admitted he did so to avoid taxes.

Scaife said his experience funding the Nixon campaign offered a blueprint for what his life’s purpose would be. In 1974, Scaife struck Mellon from his mother’s namesake foundation, and it became known as the Sarah Scaife Foundation. 

A 1999 Washington Post profile reported that Scaife never gave a comprehensive speech, outline, or interview explaining his political beliefs and mostly spoke in favor of ideas such as “freedom” and “a strong national defense.” A former aide of Scaife’s told The Washington Post, “I don’t think he had the intellectual capacity to do very much.” In the Reagan administration, Scaife served on a citizen’s advisory panel for the U.S. Information Agency, and his colleagues remembered him as “someone who had little to say, and little to contribute when he did speak.” 

Scaife spearheaded funding of “research” into what became eventually became the “Clinton Body Count,” a conspiracy theory alleging the Clintons murdered numerous political enemies. When one of his main allies, serving as an federal independent counsel into the matter, found that the Clintons were not covering up murders, Scaife said “it just doesn’t figure” and pushed ahead by funding other organizations. Scaife is perhaps best remembered today for his role in his anti-Clinton work.  

Scaife was a long time trustee and vice chairman at the Heritage Foundation and served on the board of the Hoover Institution, another leading conservative think tank, and was an important patron for the influential American Enterprise Institute and Federalist Society. In the media sphere, he funded conservative outlets such as the American Spectator and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. 

Michael Gleba, Chair And CEO

Gleba began his career as a fellow supporting Scaife’s nonprofit operations in 1999. He later became vice president of the Sarah Scaife Foundation and treasurer of the Carthage Foundation, another one of Richard Scaife’s foundations. After Scaife’s death, Gleba was named his successor at The Sarah Scaife Foundation. Much like Richard Scaife, Gleba was interested in politics, but never sought a public-facing role. Gleba had deep ties in the conservative movement and holds board positions at many of Richard Scaife’s brainchildren such as the Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Federalist Society, and The Intercollegiate Studies Institute. He was still surrounded by Scaife’s longtime allies on the board of trustees and he promised his ascension “means more of the same.” 

In one of his only public profiles, Gleba was portrayed as a more moderate heir to Scaife. His friends and coworkers described him as “low key,” and one of his coworkers pointed out that Gleba was “sullied neither by prejudice nor by the more arcane interests of his patron,” specifically mentioning his disinterest in the “Clinton Body Count” conspiracies that Richard is most remembered for. Gleba did, however, significantly raise the foundation’s giving – more than doubling The Sarah Scaife Foundation’s annual grant budget from $19 million to $38 million in 2015.

By 2020, Gleba had the Sarah Scaife Foundation distributing millions of dollars to hate groups, anti-LGBTQ groups, extremist groups, and organizations closely involved in the efforts to overturn the 2020 election, such as The Federalist Society, The Center For Security Policy, and The Claremont Institute. He also carried on Scaife’s legacy of supporting conspiratorial causes and has given to Steve Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute, the Real Clear Foundation, and Just Facts – groups that all denied the outcome of the 2020 election.

From 1985-2005, Richard Scaife’s network of nonprofits dispersed nearly half a billion dollars in grants, most of which went to conservative causes:

  • Federalist Society: The Federalist Society is the most powerful and far-reaching legal group for libertarian and conservative lawyers and judges. The Society pioneered the legal philosophy of originalism, a designed approach of interpreting the Constitution very narrowly based on what the framers — all white, all men, all Christian — supposedly meant at the time they wrote it.” Legal scholars and historians have noted that conservative justices often weaponize originalism as a “cover for opinions that were evidently partisan. Additionally, the Federalist Society has been dubbed the “the conservative pipeline to the Supreme Court,” and is connected to the last five Supreme Court nominees appointed by Republican presidents. Its membership includes numerous individuals who were instrumental in the events of January 6, 2021. In 1980, shortly before the founding of the Federalist Society, the Sarah Scaife Foundation produced a report calling for the creation of a conservative legal organization that could directly combat liberal influence in the legal sphere. The Sarah Scaife Foundation was a major financial backer of the Federalist Society and helped dramatically expand its budget and, by extension, its power. The Sarah Scaife Foundation gave the Federalist Society $4.73 million from 1985 to 2012 according to Conservative Transparency, and gave them $850,000 in 2020.
  • Judicial Watch: Judicial Watch is a right-wing watchdog group that uses the judicial system for “partisan ends.” It was founded in the mid-90s as part of the groundswell of right-wing conspiratorial action taken against the Clintons, and was an early promoter of what became eventually became known as the “Clinton Body Count”— a conspiracy theory that alleged the Clintons murdered numerous political enemies. Richard Scaife himself subscribed to this theory. Judicial Watch is also known for its work in purging voter rolls in tandem with the Public Interest Legal Foundation and True The Vote. The group also cast doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election. The Sarah Scaife Foundation gave Judicial Watch nearly $5 million from 1985 to 2012 according to Conservative Transparency.

The Washington Post said Scaife’s giving had “a disproportionate impact on the rise of the right, [and is] perhaps the biggest story in American politics in the last quarter of the 20th century.” Scaife himself wrote: “It might be too much praise, but it doesn’t bother me at all to be thought the ‘father’ of right-wing think-tanks – that is, conservatively oriented policy research organizations.”

Ideological Influence

Scaife’s allies noted that the conservative political victories of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s would have not been possible without the Scaife-funded organizations that provided the intellectual groundwork for: 

  • Reagan’s “Star Wars” Missile defense: In 1999, the think tank Institute For Policy Studies wrote that the “Star Wars” program was “dangerous and costly” and “produced precious little beyond cost overruns and technical failures” despite costing over $60 billion from 1983 through 1999.
  • Efforts aimed at ending affirmative action. The Sarah Scaife Foundation funded the work of Ward Connerly, who led the charge to pass Proposition 209 in California, “which eliminated affirmative action in public education, hiring and contracts.” He pushed similar efforts in other western states such as Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Missouri and South Dakota.

Influence On Presidential Administrations:

Reagan Administration

The Sarah Scaife Foundation had a major impact on the Reagan administration due to the influence of the Heritage Foundation. Heritage is one of the largest recipients of Richard Scaife’s generosity – in its third year of operation, Scaife gave Heritage 42% of its total funding, which its president said was “absolutely critical.” Scaife also served as a trustee of Heritage from 1985 until his death and served as vice chairman of the board.

The Heritage Foundation forwarded a “blueprint for a conservative American government” to the incoming Reagan administration. The foundation’s blueprint became the first edition of The Mandate for Leadership, published in January 1981, the month Reagan took office. Within a year, President Reagan had implemented “nearly half of [the] ideas” from the 1,093-page conservative manifesto. Despite these successes, Heritage still criticized the administration at the end of its first year for failing to move expeditiously in carrying out its conservative vision of the United States. By the end of Ronald Reagan’s second term in office, “nearly two-thirds of ‘Mandate’s’ 2,000 recommendations were adopted or attempted by the Reagan administration.”

Trump Administration

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-Tribune, organizations funded by the Sarah Scaife Foundation were closely connected to at least 25 high-ranking members of Trump’s transition team. Additionally, Sarah Scaife Foundation trustee and former Heritage Foundation president Ed Fueler was a leader of Trump’s transition team. 

Heritage, in particular, had a major impact on the Trump administration. Donald Trump directly worked with Heritage to populate his administration. Among those who left Heritage for the executive branch was Roger Severino, the director of Heritage’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society. Severino, who regularly argued against abortion rights and providing gender-affirming care to transgender individuals, joined the Department of Health and Human Services to run its Office for Civil Rights. In the words of one report, Heritage “established a direct pipeline of Heritage alumni working within the administration; symbiotic policy has materialized, as well.”   

In the 1990s, Richard Scaife became a major funder of the American Spectator’s “Arkansas Project,” which sought to find as much dirt on then-President Bill Clinton as possible. Scaife’s millions in donations quickly led to “Troopergate,” a high profile story which alleged state troopers covered up affairs for Bill Clinton and led to some of the first widely known allegations of sexual misconduct against him. The “Arkansas Project” brought Scaife into the national spotlight

After the success of “Troopergate,” Scaife pushed for further attempts to attack the Clintons as much as possible as he did not trust the mainstream media to do so. He grew particularly interested with the death of Clinton ally Vince Foster and its ties to the Whitewater controversy, which alleged the Clintons committed financial crimes. Whitewater grew into a special federal investigation headed by independent counsel and Federalist Society member, Kenneth Starr. Scaife became the subject of a special federal investigation after allegations that he improperly influenced the testimony of David Hale, who was the chief witness alleging criminal conduct by the Clintons in the Whitewater Investigation. 

Even after Starr found that Foster’s death was not the result of foul play, Scaife said “it just doesn’t figure” and pushed ahead by funding other organizations such as Judicial Watch, which were willing to continue pushing the conspiratorial anti-Clinton narrative. The Vince Foster conspiracy eventually led to the “Clinton Body Count,” a conspiracy theory alleging the Clintons murdered numerous political enemies. 

While three separate inquiries never found any instances of wrongdoing in the Whitewater investigation, it did result in evidence that led to the impeachment of Bill Clinton. In an infamous speech in 1998, Hillary Clinton called the efforts Scaife funded a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” CNN retorted: “if it’s a conspiracy, it’s a pretty open one.

Grantee Name Amount
American Enterprise Institute $1,325,000.00
Heritage Foundation $1,300,000.00
George Mason University Foundation $1,250,000.00
Foundation For Excellence In Education $1,000,000.00
Federalist Society $850,000.00
Foundation For Government Accountability $650,000.00
Tax Foundation $600,000.00
Manhattan Institute $570,000.00
FreedomWorks Foundation $540,000.00
Commonwealth Foundation For Public Policy $500,000.00
Intercollegiate Studies Institute $500,000.00
Reason Foundation $500,000.00
Atlas Network $479,000.00
National Association Of Scholars $475,000.00
Victims Of Communism Memorial Foundation $460,000.00
American Foreign Policy Council $450,000.00
Claremont Institute $450,000.00
State Policy Network $450,000.00
Competitive Enterprise Institute $430,000.00
National Institute For Public Policy Inc. $415,000.00
Capital Research Center $400,000.00
Foundation For The Defense Of Democracies, Inc $400,000.00
Lincoln Network $400,000.00
Media Research Center $400,000.00
Mercatus Center $400,000.00
Collegiate Network, Inc $390,000.00
Fund For American Studies $390,000.00
Foundation For Cultural Review, Inc. $360,000.00
Daily Caller News Foundation $350,000.00
Hudson Institute $325,000.00
Institute For Humane Studies $325,000.00
International Freedom Educational Foundation $320,000.00
Center For Security Policy $300,000.00
Evergreen Freedom Foundation $300,000.00
Free To Choose Network $300,000.00
Institute On Religion And Democracy Inc. $300,000.00
New Civil Liberties Alliance $300,000.00
Public Interest Legal Foundation $300,000.00
Pacific Legal Foundation $275,000.00
Political Economy Research Center $275,000.00
Jamestown Foundation $272,000.00
Independent Women’s Forum $260,000.00
Acton Institute $250,000.00
Becket Fund $250,000.00
Fairness Center Inc. $250,000.00
Foreign Policy Research Institute $250,000.00
Foundation For Individual Rights In Education $250,000.00
Franklin News Foundation $250,000.00
Institute For Free Speech $250,000.00
Institute For Justice $250,000.00
Oklahoma Council For Public Affairs $250,000.00
Alexander Hamilton Society $240,000.00
Lucy Burns Institute Inc $230,000.00
Philanthropy Roundtable $225,000.00
Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation $225,000.00
Landmark Legal Foundation $215,000.00
Allegheny Institute For Public Policy $200,000.00
Center For Immigration Studies $200,000.00
Ethics And Public Policy Center $200,000.00
Federation For American Immigration Reform $200,000.00
Human Rights Foundation $200,000.00
Institute On Religion And Public Life Inc. $200,000.00
Jack Miller Center For Teaching America’s Founding Principles And History $200,000.00
Middle East Media And Research Institute $200,000.00
National Taxpayers Union Foundation $200,000.00
Pacific Research Institute $200,000.00
Real Clear Foundation $200,000.00
C02 Coalition, Inc. $180,000.00
Cato Institute $180,000.00
Bill Of Rights Institute $175,000.00
National Legal And Policy Center $175,000.00
America’s Future Foundation $160,000.00
Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow $160,000.00
Encounter For Culture And Education, Inc. $160,000.00
American Private Radio $150,000.00
Association Of American Educators Foundation $150,000.00
Buckeye Institute $150,000.00
Center For Advanced China Research $150,000.00
Center For Equal Opportunity $150,000.00
Citizens’ Council For Health Freedom $150,000.00
David Horowitz Freedom Center $150,000.00
Equal Voting Rights Institute $150,000.00
Foundation For Economic Education $150,000.00
Government Accountability Institute $150,000.00
James Wilson Institute For Natural Rights And The American Founding $125,000.00
Public Media Lab $125,000.00
Charlemagne Institute $120,000.00
National Review Institute $120,000.00
Foundation For Research On Equal Opportunity $115,000.00
The American Friends Of The Global Warming Policy Foundation $110,525.00
Center For Individual Rights $110,000.00
American Council Of Trustees And Alumni $100,000.00
American Council On Science And Health $100,000.00
American Legislative Exchange Council $100,000.00
American Transparency $100,000.00
Archbridge Institute $100,000.00
Bipartisan Policy Center $100,000.00
Center For American Greatness Inc. $100,000.00
Center For The Study Of Technology And Society Inc. $100,000.00
Criminal Justice Legal Foundation $100,000.00
Galen Institute $100,000.00
Heartland Institute $100,000.00
Just Facts $100,000.00
Litigators For Liberty Network (D/B/A American Juris Link) $100,000.00
Faith And Reason Institute $80,000.00
Student Free Press Association $80,000.00
Atlantic Legal Foundation $75,000.00
Benjamin Rush Institute $75,000.00
Institute For Energy Research $75,000.00
Mountain States Legal Foundation $75,000.00
Southeastern Legal Foundation $75,000.00
Institute For Family Studies $70,000.00
Network Of Enlightened Women $70,000.00
Morningside Institute Inc. $67,500.00
National Center For Public Policy Research $65,000.00
Defense Forum Foundation Inc. $60,000.00
Fraser Institute $60,000.00
New England Legal Foundation $60,000.00
American Constitutional Rights Union $50,000.00
Critical Review Foundation $40,000.00
Council For National Policy, Inc $27,000.00
Philadelphia Society $25,000.00

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