As strange as it may seem, Major League Baseball has its own political action committee. It isn’t afraid to spread its money around Washington, either. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the league has given $245,000 this year to a diverse array of politicians, from Republicans like Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to Democrats like Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). On Sunday, independent journalist Judd Legum reported the league also gave the maximum donation of $5,000 to Cindy Hyde-Smith, the U.S. Senate candidate from Mississippi who has been outed as something of a white supremacist in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s runoff election against Democrat Mike Espy. “The contribution was made in connection with an event that MLB lobbyists were asked to attend,” a league spokesperson told ESPN’s Buster Olney. “MLB has requested that the contribution be returned.”
This didn’t really explain much, and people remained confused as to why MLB is donating money to political candidates, and how they could be so careless about into whose coffers their money is flowing. On Monday night, Yahoo‘s Jeff Passan shed some light on the issue, pointing out that the league — which reintroduced a franchise to Washington, D.C., in 2005 — regularly attempts to curry favor with politicians by donating to their campaigns. The contributions paid dividends most recently in the form of the Save America’s Pastime Act, which was included in the $1.3 billion spending bill Congress passed earlier this year. The act essentially makes it legal for the league to severely underpay its minor-league players, a practice that has drawn scrutiny in recent years. Since 2001, the league has donated over $3.7 million to 321 different members of Congress, according to Yahoo Sports.
Passan also reported on Monday that the league’s donation to Hyde-Smith came at the behest of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY). When a lobbyist for the MLB couldn’t attend an event hosted by the Senate majority leader, the league was asked to instead donate to Hyde-Smith’s campaign, which they did. The donation was made after Hyde-Smith’s comments about her desire to attend a public hanging were made public. The league had also made donations totaling $5,000 to Hyde-Smith earlier this year, and has asked for those to be returned in addition to the $5,000 they sent her earlier this month.
On Tuesday, Olney reported that MLB plans to “review its lobbying process in the aftermath of recent donation controversy, and plan more oversight of each donation.”
A former Mississippi state senator and agricultural commissioner, Hyde-Smith was tapped in March to replace the resigning Thad Cochran in the U.S. Senate. On Tuesday, the state’s voters will decide whether Hyde-Smith or Espy will serve the rest of Cochran’s term, which expires in 2021. Though it’s been nearly 30 years since a Democrat has represented Mississippi in the Senate, Hyde-Smith could be in danger of relinquishing the seat after making multiple racist comments, most notably earlier this month when she said “be on the front row” if she were invited to a public hanging. Mississippi lynched more African Americans than any other state in the nation, and did so into 1970s.
A day later, Hyde-Smith said “we just want to make it a little more difficult” for people in liberal schools to vote. She later tried to explain that the remark, made in response to a question about voter suppression, was just a joke. As for her desire to attend a public hanging, Hyde-Smith called it an “expression of exaggerated regard.” It also turned out that she didn’t just up and decide to take up racism this fall.
There’s a Facebook photo of Cindy Hyde-Smith posing in a Confederate hat at the home of Jefferson Davis. Her post reads: “Mississippi history at its best!” https://t.co/aMFqjVpZgs pic.twitter.com/YFBl5zmNKW
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) November 20, 2018
The bigoted side of Hyde-Smith hasn’t sat well with her corporate donors, which have been jumping ship all month. Walmart and Union Pacific both withdrew their support and asked for donations to be returned. So did Google, AT&T, Pfizer, Amgen, Boston Scientific, Leidos, Ernst & Young, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Facebook.
UPDATED: List of companies asking Cindy Hyde-Smith for a refund after their contributions were reported by https://t.co/Gl6evXRDcZ:
Ernst & Young
Blue Cross Blue Shield
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) November 27, 2018
But Hyde-Smith is still supported by Republican leadership, including President Trump, who has demonstrated repeatedly that he won’t let thorny issues like a history of alleged sexual abuse, virulent racism or general incompetence keep him from endorsing a candidate he knows will be loyal to him. On Monday, he flew down to Mississippi to hold not one, but two rallies as part of a last-minute campaign blitz to ensure Hyde-Smith would prevail on Tuesday.
“She votes to make America great again and she votes for America first,” Trump said of Hyde-Smith. “Cindy is so important, so respected, we’ve got to send her back. If we win tomorrow, we’ll be at 53-47.”
As for Hyde-Smith’s penchant for public hangings, the president didn’t seem as concerned as her corporate donors. “Well, I know her and I know she apologized, and she misspoke,” Trump told reporters earlier on Monday. “I’ve known her for a period of time now as senator. She’s been an excellent senator. She’s done a great job. She’s somebody that’s respected in the Senate.”