Major League Baseball's contribution to Mississippi Sen. Hyde-Smith draws it into national controversy

MLB wants its money back from embattled Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

November 26, 2018, 7:00 PM

A Major League Baseball political action committee donated more than $500,000 during the 2018 election cycle, but it's a $5,000 contribution to a Senate incumbent in Mississippi that has drawn the league into a national controversy.

Sunday, the Major League Baseball Commissioner's Office PAC joined several big-name companies, including Pfizer, Walmart and AT&T, in calling on Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith to return contributions made to her campaign in response to a video showing her talking about her willingness to attend a “public hanging.”

In a video released on Nov. 11, Hyde-Smith is seen embracing a supporter in Tupelo at a Nov. 2 campaign stop and then telling a cheering crowd, "If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." She didn't apologize for the comment until the Nov. 20 debate when she described it as "an exaggerated expression of regard."

But questions remain about the timing of the MLB contribution, which according to the Hyde-Smith campaign’s Nov. 24 Federal Election Commission filing, was made on Nov. 23, almost two weeks after the comment went viral.

“The contribution was made in connection with an event that MLB lobbyists were asked to attend,” an MLB spokesman said in a statement obtained by ESPN's Buster Olney. “MLB has requested that the donation be returned."

The Hyde-Smith campaign has not responded to questions about the status of the refund requests.

Her opponent, Democrat Mike Espy, highlighted the league's decision in a press release.

“When you’ve lost America’s favorite pastime, you’ve crossed a red line,” said Danny Blanton, communications director for the Espy campaign. “Her toxic comments are scaring away the kind of investments our state needs to move forward.”

However, while the league has distanced itself from Hyde-Smith, San Francisco Giants owner Charles B. Johnson also made a contribution to the candidate that he hasn't withdrawn. Facing a boycott of the team by Bay area civil rights leaders, the Giants president and CEO Laurence M. Baer released a statement condemning racism and pointing to the team's advocacy for inclusiveness, but he also said he can't control owners' politics.

"In no way does the Giants organization condone any racist and hateful language and behavior by anyone," Baer said.

"Neither I nor anyone else at the Giants can control who any of our owners support politically, just as we cannot and should not control whom any of our employees support politically."

Major League Baseball as a political player

The Nov. 23 contribution was not the first from the MLB PAC to the Hyde-Smith campaign. According to FEC filings, Hyde-Smith also received support from the PAC with a $2,500 donation on June 30 and another $2,500 on Sept. 30.

There’s a $5,000 limit per election and Hyde-Smith is facing a runoff election with Espy Tuesday, after the special election earlier this month.

Overall, donations from the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball PAC and individuals associated with the PAC slightly favored Democrats this year. According to the FEC, the PAC spent $500,556 this cycle. Democrats received $253,634, or 54 percent of donations. Republicans received $215,235, or 46 percent of donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

By comparison, the National Football League’s Gridiron PAC spent $824,124 in the 2018 cycle. Like the MLB PAC, the Gridiron PAC also spent more on Democratic candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Since 2002, donations from the MLB PAC have mostly favored Democrats. Only in 2016 did they favor Republicans 51 percent to 49 percent, and then in 2006 it was split.

Of the top ten recipients of MLB PAC donations in the 2018 cycle, six of them do not have Major League baseball teams in their home states. The piece of legislation the MLB PAC most frequently lobbied on was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

If Hyde-Smith doesn't return her donation, she would place near the top of the MLB recipient list with a total of $10,000 received.

Biggest recipients of donations from the MLB PAC this cycle:

  • Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota): $10,650
  • Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan): $10,400
  • Jon Tester (D-Montana): $10,000
  • Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey): $7,500
  • Brett Guthrie (R-Kentucky): $7,000
  • Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio): $6,000
  • Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi): $6,000
  • Pete Aguilar (D-California): $5,500
  • Nanette Barragan (D-California): $5,000
  • John Barrasso (R-Wyoming): $5,000
  • ABC News' Soorin Kim, John Verhovek, Karyn Rodus and Kendall Karson contributed to this report

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