Richard Mellon Scaife's Cash Pays For Judicial Watch's Ideologically Motivated Lawsuits


If you follow Phoenix politics, then you are familiar with the activities of a Washington, D.C.-based group called Judicial Watch, which seems to be suing half the city at any given moment — notably, the half that doesn't agree with it. But more on that in a sec.

The local press normally softballs any reference to Judicial Watch, characterizing it in print as a "conservative think tank" or a "watchdog group."

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton (left) plays host to Arizona state Senate President-elect Russell Pearce in D.C.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton (left) plays host to Arizona state Senate President-elect Russell Pearce in D.C.

It is more than conservative. In fact, Judicial Watch specializes in far-right-wing advocacy, and though the group is designated by the Internal Revenue Service as non-partisan and tax-exempt, it pursues a relentless wing-nut agenda, one that includes the insidious cause of nativism.

For example, in Judicial Watch's alternate reality, the DREAM Act — the proposed federal legislation that would allow young, undocumented men and women brought to this country when they were tots to legalize their status — is "amnesty."

Senate Bill 1070? Manna from heaven. State Senator Russell Pearce, Arizona's biggest bigot? A hero, whom the organization represents in federal court and whom it recently hosted in D.C. as a speaker at a panel on immigration.

There, Pearce compared illegal immigrants to cattle with mad cow disease and joked that President Barack Obama would not be visiting Arizona because Sand Land requires "papers."

Oh, that Russ, such a card. During the same panel discussion, one of the questioners in the audience was none other than white nationalist Peter Brimelow, editor of, identified as a "hate site" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Brimelow wondered about a "moratorium" on all legal immigration to the United States. And Pearce agreed that this was a bang-up idea, at least for the moment.

Of course, illegal immigration isn't Judicial Watch's only issue. If you check out its Web site, you'll find a veritable catalog of conserva-nut obsessions, everything from now-defunct left-wing group ACORN and the Ground Zero Mosque to lame-duck U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and (naturally) President Obama.

Judicial Watch has been around for about 16 years. It publishes an annual list of Washington's top 10 "most wanted corrupt politicians." Most of those listed just happen to be Democrats, though Judicial Watch throws in the occasional GOPer for the sake of form.

Back in the day, Judicial Watch was consumed with taking down then-President Bill Clinton and killed many a forest filing legal paperwork against his administration.

Such lawyerin' is expensive. But J.W.'s never wanted for cash, in large part because of the deep pockets of crackpot Pennsylvania billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.

Most now remember Scaife's name in connection to "the Arkansas Project," wherein Scaife spent more than $2 million trying to slime Clinton by having compliant journalists and private detectives investigate wacko conspiracy theories related to Whitewater and the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster.

The reclusive Scaife, 78, is heir to the Mellon banking fortune, and number 332 on Forbes' 2010 list of the 400 wealthiest folks in America.

Through his Carthage Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, Scaife helps bankroll a number of far-right and nativist groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (which was behind writing SB 1070), NumbersUSA, the Center for Immigration Studies, and Judicial Watch (see "FAIR-y Tales," Terry Greene Sterling, December 2).

According to the progressive Media Matters Action Network, the Scaife family foundations mentioned above have given $8.7 million to Judicial Watch since 1997, making Scaife Judicial Watch's primary benefactor.

Interestingly, it was not long after I asked Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton about the source of J.W.'s funding during a recent phone interview that he hung up on me.

Well, to be honest, he'd been threatening to end the call for a while, as he didn't like the questions I was putting to him about Judicial Watch's agenda in suing various Phoenix city officials his group opposes on the issue of illegal immigration.

As I've pointed out at length, Judicial Watch and Fitton — paid a handsome annual salary of about $175,000, according to the online resource — have a definite ideological agenda.

Both Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and city Public Safety Manager (read: Police Chief) Jack Harris disagree with Judicial Watch and J.W.'s local allies Russell Pearce, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Mark Spencer, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, over the enforcement of federal immigration laws by local cops.

Gordon and Harris have publicly criticized SB 1070 and, even before 1070, have opposed efforts to make the Phoenix Police Department an immigration-driven organization.

In 2007 and 2008, Judicial Watch threatened to sue the city over a PPD operations order that prevented cops from inquiring into the immigration status of those they stop. There was added pressure at the time because of a standoff between the pro- and anti-immigration factions at Pruitt's Furniture, where the owner had called in Sheriff Joe to, um, "guard" his property against day laborers seeking work in the neighborhood.

Ultimately, the operations order was revised in a compromise that allowed cops more leeway to contact federal immigration authorities but prevented them from stopping individuals for the sole purpose of verifying their residency status.

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