Check into the finances of some of President Clinton's noisiest critics and you're likely to find a six-figure check from a foundation that bears the name of conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.
The Pittsburgh newspaper publisher controls several foundations that gave a few million dollars last year to groups run by Clinton critics, according to annual reports that have become available in recent days."The money is important," said Mark Levin, president of Landmark Legal Foundation, which received $525,000 last year from two Scaife foundations. "It's one-third of our budget. But we would survive with or without this money."
Grants to anti-Clinton groups were only a portion of the $25 million in donations that four Scaife foundations handed out to a range of organizations. Universities, charities, think tanks and other organizations received millions.
But the money has helped keep in business a small and vocal group of presidential critics who dog the administration with lawsuits, write unflattering articles about the latest turn in the Monica Lewinsky case and go on talk shows to criticize Clinton and defend White-water prosecutor Kenneth Starr.
Landmark's Levin takes aim at the administration in pieces published in conservative journals, in press releases and in speeches.
Levin's group pounced when The New Yorker magazine published an article that said Linda Tripp, a central figure in the Lewinsky case, didn't disclose on a security form for a Pentagon job that she had once been arrested. The group called on Attorney General Janet Reno to open a criminal investigation of the disclosure. The department declined.
Levin says funding from conservatives like Scaife is far outweighed by money given to liberal causes by deep-pocketed left-wing philanthropic groups.
"Conservatives support conservatives, just like liberals support liberal," he said.
Scaife, an heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune, rarely gives interviews. Yale Gutnick, his attorney, says that politics are not a factor in choosing grant recipients and points out that the foundations give to a wide range of groups with different ideological bents. Many are conservative, but some are not.
Scaife is no Clinton fan and believes Clinton "has put a taint on the presidency" because of moral and ethical lapses, Gutnick said. "When you exercise your first amendment rights the way (Scaife) does, everything comes into the picture, but the foundations are not politically motivated," he added.
The American Spectator Educational Foundation Inc. has used its Scaife money to underwrite an investigation into Whitewater. The group, which publishes the American Spectator magazine, received $950,000 from two Scaife foundations last year, more than nearly any other grantee.
The Scaife foundations have since discontinued their support of the Spectator.
Now the magazine has become the focus of fresh controversy because of allegations that conservative activists paid with Scaife money funneled cash to key White-water witness David Hale while Hale was cooperating with Starr's investigation. Starr plans to investigate.
Magazine officials say there's no evidence that Hale received any payments and Hale has denied getting any money. Internal documents obtained by The Associated Press show that in 1994 most of the money for the project went to a lawyer in charge of the effort. No checks went to Hale, the documents show.
Clinton supporters see a dark motive behind Scaife's deep pockets.
"It's helpful for the American people to know that when they see Ken Starr's defenders in the media, Richard Scaife's money is often at work behind the scenes," said White House spokesman Jim Kennedy.