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  • Scaife Series: database and related stories
  •   Page Two
    Burdens of Wealth
    Continued from preceding page

    Persuaded to Support Ideas Over Individuals

    Scaife first became interested in politics as a boy. In the 1950s, his sister Cordelia's boyfriend, Robert Duggan, introduced Scaife to conservative Republican politics, and helped him become a Republican committeeman in Allegheny County in 1956.

    He became an enthusiastic supporter of Arizona Sen. Barry M. Goldwater in 1964. His mother was a Goldwater fan, too, and lent the Goldwaters her airplane. Scaife reportedly contributed substantially to the Goldwater presidential effort and met the candidate more than once. His experience with the campaign influenced his philanthropy for years to come.

    In 1969, when he was 37 years old, Scaife finally got a role entirely his own. After hearing from a friend that the owners of the Tribune-Review of Greensburg, Pa., wanted to sell the paper, he bought it for about $5 million. Greensburg is the county seat of Westmoreland County, where Ligonier is located, just east of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Scaife became the paper's publisher.

    Scaife had one last serious fling with electoral politics in 1972, when he gave 330 $3,000 checks – $990,000 – to 330 different dummy organizations, all of them fronting for the Nixon campaign. The Washington Post disclosed these contributions a fortnight before the election, and Scaife readily acknowledged them. He wrote so many checks to avoid the federal gift tax then in force.

    The Nixon White House courted Scaife, but he was appalled by the spectacle of Watergate, and his paper advocated Nixon's impeachment in March 1974. "My country comes first, my party comes second," Scaife explained.

    His experience with Nixon, according to several associates, persuaded him to invest his hopes and his money in conservative institutions and ideas, not politicians. Though he has continued to give thousands to political campaigns and political action committees, his interest in electoral politics receded.

    For Scaife personally, 1974 was probably more important for the death of his mentor, Duggan, and its consequences for his family. Since 1963, Duggan had been the elected district attorney of Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located. Scaife had supported him enthusiastically, served as his campaign treasurer and told friends he wanted to help Duggan become governor of Pennsylvania.

    In Duggan's third term as D.A., the Internal Revenue Service and Richard Thornburgh, then the U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania (and later governor and U.S. attorney general), opened investigations into Duggan's sources of income and relations with criminal elements.

    At first Scaife stood by his friend, even lobbying the Nixon administration to call Thornburgh off. But friends of Scaife's, apparently prodded by Thornburgh's investigators, brought him evidence of Duggan's wrongdoing that convinced him that Duggan was corrupt.

    But Cordelia Scaife concluded that the world was unfairly out to get her old friend, and – to the amazement of Pittsburgh's social and political worlds – she decided to marry him secretly in Nevada. Scaife was livid when he heard about the wedding. Weeks after the marriage was announced, Thornburgh tightened the noose around Duggan. With help from a local gangster who finally agreed to testify that he had made payoffs to the D.A., Thornburgh brought a six-count indictment charging Duggan with tax fraud.

    On the day the indictment was returned – March 5, 1974 – Duggan was found dead on his farm in Ligonier. His body had a shotgun wound in the chest; a shotgun was found a few feet away. A police investigation concluded that he died by accident or suicide, but many suspicious people doubted this explanation. One was Cordelia, who decided, according to numerous sources, that somehow, her brother was involved. She broke off relations with her brother and has not spoken to him since.

    Today, Cordelia Scaife May says she accepts the verdict that Duggan did away with himself. "I don't want that one raked up again," she said in a recent interview.

    Silence on Philanthropic Philosophy, Intellectual Beliefs

    Most of the $340 million Scaife's trusts and foundations have given to conservative causes has funded some form of intellectual activity. "Our funding is based on our support of ideas like limited government, individual rights and a strong defense," he said in a written response to questions from The Washington Post. But no one has ever accused Scaife of being an intellectual.

    Asked about his interest in books, more than a dozen of the conservative intellectuals Scaife has supported could cite none they remembered him discussing. What they remember is his appetite for newspapers, particularly for the gossip columns. The one academic subject friends cited that he seems to know well is geography. His greatest known enthusiasm is for flowers. His penchant for conspiratorial explanations of public events is mentioned often.

    Scaife has apparently never given a speech or written an article outlining his personal philosophy, the principles guiding his philanthropy or his ideas. Occasionally, he has dropped tantalizing, if also confusing, clues, as he did at a rally sponsored by the Heritage Foundation after the Republicans gained control of the House and Senate in November 1994.

    Invited to speak, Scaife said: "With political victory, the ideological conflicts that have swirled about this nation for half a century now show clear signs of breaking into naked ideological warfare in which the very foundations of our republic are threatened and that we had better take heed."

    In his statement to The Post, Scaife said, "My concerns are for the freedom of individuals."

    Scaife has regularly attended board meetings at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace and at the Heritage Foundation (where he is vice chairman), but speaks little, and almost never about substantive issues, according to people who attended board meetings.

    The only public role Scaife has ever held was as a member of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, the citizens' advisory panel for the U.S. Information Agency, from 1984 to 1990. (Edwin J. Feulner Jr. of the Heritage Foundation was then the chairman of that panel.) In that capacity he traveled around the world visiting USIA posts. Other prominent citizens who served with him remember Scaife as someone who had little to say, and little to contribute when he did speak.

    Had he not inherited a lot of money, said former aide Shuman, "I don't think he had the intellectual capacity to do very much."

    While many people who know Scaife give him credit for setting and sticking to his conservative priorities, others attribute the success of his giving largely to the influence of his two longest-serving aides, McMichael and Richard M. Larry. Both developed relationships with the conservative activists who guided Scaife's philanthropy, and brought system and order to the process of giving the money away along with their own strong beliefs.

    McMichael has a conspiratorial bent as well. According to one recipient who worked with him, he sometimes avoided phone calls in favor of secretive meetings in airports. He wrote a novel (subsidized by Scaife) imagining a future United States taken over by the Soviet Union after being duped by a successor to the United Nations. He specializes in grants for foreign policy and security issues. Larry, a former Marine who handles grants involving domestic policy, was largely responsible for Scaife's involvement in the "Arkansas Project" that attempted to find dirt on the Clintons.

    Perhaps most important, Scaife's philanthropy fed on itself, thanks in large measure to a handful of recipients who cultivated the donor. When Scaife volunteered generous gifts to the Hoover Institution in the 1960s, its director at the time, W. Glenn Campbell, put Scaife on Hoover's board. There he was exposed to many conservative intellectuals who were grateful for the millions he was giving to their enterprise.

    Similarly, David Abshire at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and William Baroody Sr. at the American Enterprise Institute exposed Scaife to a world of intellectuals and political activism that he would not have seen without his ties to their organizations. Later Feulner cultivated Scaife assiduously, put him on the Heritage Board in 1985, then accepted a position on the board of the Sarah Scaife Foundation. Scaife has been vice chairman of Heritage's board since 1992.

    Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation and a founder of Heritage, organized a dinner at the Old Angler's Inn near Great Falls in Potomac in the early 1990s to honor Scaife for his contributions to victory in the Cold War.

    Most of the major recipients declined requests for on-the-record interviews about Scaife. Campbell, now director emeritus at Hoover, did give an interview. "Unlike a lot of people who inherited" money, he said, Scaife "spent it wisely."

    The people who run the big organizations Scaife has supported, not surprisingly, are quick to forgive Scaife's idiosyncrasies. Asked about Scaife's predilection for conspiracy theories, for example, the head of one big recipient organization shrugged: "I don't know why he goes off on these toots."

    Some of these recipients are nervous now about Scaife's future commitment to their causes because they sense his interests are changing. Several attributed this to his wife, Margaret "Ritchie" Battle Scaife, who was quite openly Scaife's companion for many years before they were married in 1991. She still lives in the house she first occupied as Scaife's companion, just around the corner from Scaife's house in the Shadyside neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

    Ritchie Scaife has philanthropic interests of her own, according to sources connected to the Scaife foundations. She has encouraged recent gifts of at least $570,000 to the education programs of the Archdiocese of Pittsburgh, to the National Gallery of Art in Washington ($2.25 million for a painting acquired in honor of Paul Mellon, Scaife's cousin) and to Mount Vernon for a new audio-visual program for visitors there. She is active now in a new Pittsburgh parks conservancy that received approval last year for $500,000 in grant money from Scaife's Allegheny Foundation.

    Scaife is described by old friends as enjoying perhaps the best time of his life, and many attribute this to his wife. Her biggest accomplishment may have been to help Scaife break the spell of alcohol. Since he stopped drinking in the early '90s "the change in his personality is just unbelievable," said H. Yale Gutnick, Scaife's lawyer. At the same time, and to his great frustration, Scaife has been losing his hearing, and now often relies on a crude but effective amplifying device to talk to others – a microphone that brings his interlocutor's words into earphones.

    Ritchie Scaife travels in the private DC-9, takes part in the social and cultural life of Pittsburgh's upper crust and seems to enjoy hobnobbing with celebrities. She told friends after her husband was interviewed last fall by John F. Kennedy Jr. that Kennedy was "a friend of ours." (Several months after the interview appeared in George magazine, her son Westray Battle was listed as an intern on the masthead of George. Kennedy invited Scaife to be his guest at Saturday's White House Correspondents Dinner.)

    Last June, Ritchie Scaife gave a lavish party to celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary. The party was held in elaborate tents that were pitched on the site of Penguin Court, the eccentric Cottswolds-style mansion Scaife's mother and father built in Ligonier next to the Rolling Rock Club. When Scaife inherited the old mansion he had it torn down, stone by stone.

    The giant party tents were arrayed around a reflecting pool and furnished to look like a grand country house – chandeliers, art work, fine furniture, according to one of the 250 guests. Every guest got an umbrella with a penguin handle, and a dancing penguin was placed on the dashboards of the guests' cars.

    Scaife's admirers insist that he's misunderstood. "He's got this incredible modesty that people don't even know about," said George "Frolic" Weymouth, the chairman of the Brandywine Conservancy in Chadds Ford, Pa., where Andrew Wyeth paintings and the landscape he painted are both preserved. Scaife has given more than $6 million to the conservancy since 1979.

    Weymouth, a painter and restorer of horse-drawn carriages whose mother was a du Pont, described Scaife as someone "passionate about flowers" who has a refined taste in gardens and paintings. "He's a wonderful person, very good sense of humor," Weymouth added.

    Gutnick, Scaife's lawyer, recounted proudly how Scaife had offered a $50,000 contribution to Pittsburgh's United Jewish Federation to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Israeli independence.

    "He's a very attractive, very pleasant, very amusing person," said William Boyd, a lifelong friend.

    So Scaife is as kind to friends as he can be harsh to perceived enemies. James Whelan, the founding editor of the Washington Times who worked for Scaife when he owned the Sacramento Union, said this was characteristic. Scaife's world, Whelan said, is starkly divided between allies and adversaries. "If you're not my friend, you're my enemy – he lives by that kind of code."

    Scaife remains feisty and unpredictable. He told Kennedy last fall that he was glad to see Newt Gingrich leave the House speakership – "we need leadership, and Newt wasn't providing it." He said that although he was "a Republican by birth – in the last several years, particularly after Newt's election, I have become more and more Libertarian – I don't see the Republicans going anywhere."

    Maintaining Privacy Under Newfound Notoriety

    Throughout his adult life Scaife has worried about his personal security. Shuman, his former aide, recalled Pittsburgh police cars stationed outside his house 20 years ago. This year those fears were realized in a bizarre episode that grew out of Scaife's new notoriety as a bogeyman of the left.

    Scaife is the topic of much discussion on the Internet. One of his critics in cyberspace, Steve Kangas, maintained his own Web site where he wrote diatribes against the the "overclass," a combination of the wealthy and the CIA. He considered Scaife an influential member.

    On Feb. 8, Kangas was found dead in a men's room on the 39th floor of the Oxford Center office building, where Scaife's Pittsburgh offices are now located. Police ruled it a suicide. Kangas had come from Las Vegas with a gun; Scaife concluded that he was Kangas's target, according to knowledgeable sources.

    Kangas's suicide was not publicized for weeks after the event, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette finally got wind of it and wrote several stories. So did Scaife's Tribune-Review. Scaife apparently didn't like the Post-Gazette's coverage, which raised questions about why Scaife had hired a private detective to investigate Kangas (the same Rex Armistead who worked on the Arkansas Project) instead of relying on Pittsburgh police.

    Scaife's Tribune-Review ran an angry editorial denouncing the other paper's coverage – an editorial that had to have the owner's personal approval, according to a former editor of the Tribune-Review. The editorial described Dennis B. Roddy, the Post-Gazette reporter who wrote the stories, and John G. Craig Jr., the editor of the paper, as "Scaife haters" who should have realized that "Kangas, an unstable man who became fully unhinged, was pushed over the top by liberals like them who joined the Clinton White House and their friends to demonize Dick Scaife."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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