Around the time that inflammatory comments by Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi endorsing public hangings surfaced on video, Major League Baseball donated $5,000 to her campaign.
After word of the donation — the maximum legal amount — broke over the weekend, M.L.B. asked for the money back.
The contribution, first reported Saturday by Popular Information, is embarrassing to M.L.B., which has several initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion in its sport. Many of Hyde-Smith’s comments, some of which she has apologized for or attempted to explain, appear to contradict baseball’s mission.
“The contribution was made in connection with an event that M.L.B. lobbyists were asked to attend,” an M.L.B. spokesman said in a statement. “M.L.B. has requested that the donation be returned.”
The Hyde-Smith campaign reported its contributions to the Federal Election Commission on Nov. 23. That was almost two weeks after the public hanging comments were made, but baseball says the donation was made earlier in the month at a political event by M.L.B. lobbyists who were unaware of her remarks.
The baseball commissioner’s office has its own political action committee and donates to politicians on both sides of the aisle to help promote its causes in Congress, like protecting M.L.B.’s antitrust exemption and other legislation, like how teams pay minor league players.
Charles Johnson, an owner of the San Francisco Giants, also made contributions to Hyde-Smith. He and his wife Ann each donated $2,700 through a super PAC. In a statement, Johnson said he was unaware the contribution would be used to support Hyde-Smith.
“I had absolutely no knowledge that this donation would be used in this manner and I, like the Giants organization, strongly condemn any form of racism and in no way condone the advertisement that was created by this entity.”
There are a handful of minor league baseball teams in Mississippi, but none affiliated with the Giants. The team also issued a statement:
“The Giants’ reputation as one of the most inclusive and socially engaged professional sports teams in the nation speaks for itself. We are unaware of Mr. Johnson’s political donations because they are entirely separate from his stake in the Giants ownership group. In no way do the Giants condone this disturbing and divisive political activity.”
Hyde-Smith, a Republican appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant in March to replace Thad Cochran, who resigned for health reasons, is facing Mike Espy, a Democrat, in Tuesday’s runoff election. Since M.L.B. made the contribution, further reports have come to light showing Hyde-Smith’s support for the Confederacy. In a photograph on her Facebook page, she is shown wearing the cap of a Confederate soldier and holding a musket. The caption reads, “Mississippi history at its best.”
She was also seen on video espousing voter suppression among college students to a small group of supporters after the Nov. 6 general election. Hyde-Smith is heard to say that it would be “a great idea.” She later labeled the comment a joke.
She said the same thing about her earlier statement, made at a rally on Nov. 2, that she would happily sit in the front row for public hangings. The comment stirred up the painful history of lynchings in Mississippi and elsewhere.
Since then, several large corporations, including Walmart, AT&T and Pfizer, have also asked for their contributions to be returned.