PITTSBURGH – Richard Mellon Scaife, the billionaire heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune, and a newspaper publisher who funded libertarian and conservative causes and various projects to discredit President Bill Clinton, has died. He was 82.
Scaife died early Friday at his home, his newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, reported. Scaife’s death comes less than two months after he announced in a first-person, front-page story in the paper that he had an untreatable form of cancer.
“Some who dislike me may rejoice at the news,” wrote Scaife, who acknowledged making political and other enemies. “Naturally, I can’t share their enthusiasm.”
He was the grand-nephew of Andrew Mellon, a banker and secretary of the Treasury who was involved with some of the biggest industrial companies of the early 20th century. Forbes magazine estimated Scaife’s net worth in 2013 at $1.4 billion.
The intensely private Scaife became widely known in the 1990s when first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said her husband was being attacked by a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” White House staffers and other supporters suggested Scaife was playing a central role in the attack.
Several foundations controlled by Scaife gave millions of dollars to organizations run by critics of Clinton, including $1.7 million for a project at the conservative American Spectator magazine to dig up information about his role in the Whitewater real estate scandal.
Scaife rarely gave interviews, but in one with George magazine editor John F. Kennedy Jr. in 1998 he called President Clinton “an embarrassment.”
In the interview, Scaife denied that his money helped support an effort to hurt the president, but he suggested Clinton might be linked to the deaths of dozens of administration officials and associates, including White House Deputy Counsel Vince Foster and onetime Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. Foster’s death was determined to be a suicide; Brown died in a plane crash.
Scaife also accused Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel whose investigation led to Clinton’s impeachment in the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, to be a “mole working for the Democrats.”
Scaife’s stance toward the Clintons softened years later. In an interview published in early 2008, he told Vanity Fair magazine he and the former president had a “very pleasant” lunch the previous summer, and “I never met such a charismatic man in my whole life.”
Clinton gave Scaife an autographed copy of his book, and Scaife said he later sent $100,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative. (Scaife also said philandering “is something that Bill Clinton and I have in common.”)
Scaife’s newspaper also endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s bid for president in 2008.