MLB asks for the return of its $5,000 donation to Cindy Hyde-Smith

MLB asks for the return of its $5,000 donation to Cindy Hyde-Smith
Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) (Knowles, Lindsay)

MISSISSIPPI (WMC) - Over weekend, Major League Baseball created a firestorm of controversy for itself when it made a $5,000 donation — the maximum donation allowed under the law — to Mississippi senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. The donation, which was made on November 23, was first reported by Judd Legum of Popular Information. Charles Johnson, part owner of the San Francisco Giants has also made a donation to Hyde-Smith.

The donation was controversial because Hyde-Smith recently told a crowd at a campaign event that she would be “in the front row of a public hanging,” if invited. She also posed in a photo wearing a Confederate hat and holding a rifle that made the rounds on Facebook, and it was just uncovered that she sponsored a resolution praising Confederate soldiers’ “defending their homeland.” She has since (sorta) apologized for some that, but her comments and acts have stirred up racial animus and have come to dominate the news surrounding her campaign. All of that has caused corporate donors such as Walmart, Union Pacific and AT&T and others to request refunds of their donations to her.

Major League Baseball’s donation, coming after Hyde-Smith’s controversial comments and actions, created an immediate backlash once it was discovered last night. It was such a big backlash that, by 8:30am this morning, MLB asked for the donation back. MLB’s statement, first reported by Buster Olney of ESPN:

“The contribution was made in connection with an event that MLB lobbyists were asked to attend. MLB has requested that the contribution be returned.”

Given how political donations work — you have to write a check to the campaign committee by name — there is no reasonable way to read this other than (a) MLB’s lobbyists happily cut the check to Hyde-Smith not giving a rip about Hyde-Smith’s controversial comments; and (b) the moment this hit the news they realized how big a deal it was to people and are now scrambling to control the damage.

The most charitable explanation that doesn’t track like that would be that MLB lobbyists just give signed, blank checks to fundraisers and have no idea where the money goes. I don’t think that makes it much better, but I suppose we’ll hear about that soon.

Below is the story as it appeared at 7:20AM this morning, before MLB’s request to have its donation returned was made public:

In 2002 Major League Baseball formed a political action committee. Like a lot of PACs, it makes substantial donations to candidates. Like a lot of PACs that are more business-oriented than pet cause oriented, it tends to spread its money around to both Republican and Democratic candidates, with the level of its donations to each party varying with the political winds. I haven’t taken a close look at this for a while, but back in the 2012 cycle, for example, about 75% of the MLB Commissioner’s PAC donations went to Republicans. From what I’ve seen so far this cycle, it has broke more in favor of Democrats, at least as far as sitting members of Congress go.

Whichever way the partisan lean goes, baseball — like a lot of businesses — tends to avoid controversy or controversial candidates with its donations. Which makes the news that broke last night rather surprising: the MLB PAC donated the legal maximum — $5,000 — to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith from Mississippi ahead of her special runoff election against Democrat Mike Espy. A day earlier she received a donation from San Francisco Giants part-owner Charles B. Johnson.

This is controversial because Hyde-Smith recently told a crowd at a campaign event that she would be “in the front row of a public hanging,” if invited. She also posed in a photo wearing a Confederate hat and holding a rifle that made the rounds on Facebook, and it was just uncovered that she sponsored a resolution praising Confederate soldiers’ “defending their homeland.”

She has since (sorta) apologized for some that, but her comments and acts have stirred up racial animus and have come to dominate the news surrounding her campaign. All of that has caused corporate donors such as Walmart, Union Pacific and AT&T and others to request refunds of their donations to her.

But not Major League Baseball. Baseball donated the maximum to her after the controversies, with the donation being made on November 23. Rob Manfred has not yet explained why the league’s PAC has seen fit to give Hyde-Smith money in light of all of this, but given the anger and agitation I’ve seen about this just since I woke up this morning and saw the news, my sense is that he had better explain himself pretty damn quickly.

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