Connecting the Dots

Six years ago, Steven W. Smith, the attorney who threatened to sue to end the use of all-female co-ops at UT, found several plaintiffs who were eager to sue the university law school over the fact that they were not admitted while minority students with equal or lesser credentials got in. One of those plaintiffs was Cheryl Hopwood. In 1996, her case sent shock waves through the state when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the race-based admissions process at UT and other state-supported schools had to be discarded.

Steven W. Smith

photograph by Tom Callins

But the Hopwood case has nothing to do with Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones. Right? On the surface, no. But if you follow the money trail from Richard Mellon Scaife's bank account to Ted Olson's pocket, the connections are rather interesting. Scaife, the reclusive billionaire and right-wing zealot, has funneled some $2.4 million into the "Arkansas Project," the investigation backed by American Spectator magazine that has delved into Clinton's sexual history and the Whitewater land deal. It was American Spectator which found Paula Jones and led her to go public with her allegations that President Bill Clinton had tried to seduce her. Olson, a Washington lawyer and former member of Reagan's Justice Dept., is on the board of the foundation that oversees American Spectator. Olson also represents David Hale, the former municipal judge from Little Rock who is one of Bill Clinton's chief accusers. In 1994, Hale pleaded guilty to two felony counts of conspiring to defraud the Small Business Administration. (Hale testified in the 1996 criminal trial of then-Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker and Jim and Susan McDougal, who were partners with the Clintons in the infamous Whitewater land deal).

How Olson came to represent Hale has been the subject of a long investigation by reporters at Salon, the Web zine that has been one of Clinton's staunchest supporters. The ties between Olson and Ken Starr are long and deep. The two were partners at the Washington law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. They worked together in the Justice Dept. during the Reagan Administration, and Olson later acted as Reagan's lawyer during the Iran-Contra scandal. Olson and Starr remain close friends. And Olson has staunchly defended Starr's investigation into Clinton's peccadillos. In an August 22 Op-Ed in the New York Times, Olson wrote, "The President alone is responsible for injecting his sexual appetites into this investigation."

Okay, forget Monica, Paula, and Whitewater for a moment. Olson has been a key operative for Scaife on another front: The attack on affirmative action. Olson argued the Hopwood case before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1996, and he may handle similar lawsuits that are pending in Washington and Michigan. But who got Olson to argue the Hopwood case? The Center for Individual Rights, a conservative Washington D.C.-based public interest law firm. CIR gets the bulk of its funding -- $1.6 million this year -- from bastions of the far right; among its most important contributors is Richard Mellon Scaife.

Two foundations controlled by Scaife, the Carthage and Scaife Family Foundations, gave CIR $150,000 this year. (Among other beneficiaries of Scaife's largesse are groups that have pushed for investigations into the suicide of former Clinton aide Vincent Foster, in an attempt to prove that Foster was murdered.) Scaife was among the first to give money to CIR when McDonald and Greve launched the firm in 1989. In April, Michael McDonald, CIR's president, told me, "We do owe a debt of gratitude to the people at Scaife because they were one of the first people willing to take a chance on CIR's mission." And he adds, "Contrary to the image that is put out in the media, they have a very good grasp of what's going on in the public interest law world."

Olson doesn't consider his work for CIR as ideological or partisan. "Discrimination against an individual because of their race is fundamentally wrong under our constitution," he said in April during a phone interview. "Some people want to characterize that as a conservative position. I suppose people can put whatever label they want on it."

So what importance does all this have? Perhaps none. Perhaps it's just a silly parlor game akin to six degrees of Kevin Bacon. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that Scaife's money has been a central part of two high-profile legal battles that involve the future of the presidency in America and the future of race-based admissions in America's schools. Maybe there never was a right wing conspiracy to go after Bill Clinton. And maybe it was inevitable that race-based admissions would one day be challenged and that they would be overturned by the courts. Then again, maybe the connections between Cheryl and Monica prove that, given enough right-wing cash and enough lawyers, a motivated group of citizens can change the course of history.

-- Robert Bryce

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