As Donors Flee, MLB & SF Giants Owner Donate To Cindy Hyde-Smith After “Public Hanging” Comment

Companies including Walmart and AT&T have renounced the Republican Senator ahead of Mississippi’s runoff election this Tuesday. A few notable names have not done the same.
Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi appeared at a news conference at the state Republican Party headquarters in Jackson, Miss., on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018 (AP Photo/Emily Wagster Pettus)

Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi appeared at a news conference at the state Republican Party headquarters in Jackson, Miss., on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018 (AP Photo/Emily Wagster Pettus)

Charles B. Johnson, a principal owner of the San Francisco Giants, contributed to the campaign of Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), nine days after she made racist comments about a “public hanging.”

Johnson is one of 29 principal owners of the Giants, a group that includes CEO Larry Baer. Though his ownership share is not publicly available, Johnson is believed to hold one of the largest stakes in the team.

A runoff election for U.S. Senator from Mississippi will take place on Tuesday, November 27. Hyde-Smith, the embattled Republican incumbent, is facing a stiff challenge from Democrat Mike Espy. No Democrat has won a Senate race in Mississippi since 1982. President Trump plans to hold two MAGA rallies in Mississippi on Monday, election eve, to bolster Hyde-Smith’s campaign.

Revelations about Johnson’s contribution to Hyde-Smith came amidst news of several large corporate contributors to the Republican Senator’s re-election campaign publicly renouncing her and requesting refunds.

On Thursday, Judd Legum, publisher of news site Popular Information, tweeted about Johnson’s contribution to Hyde-Smith. Johnson and his wife Ann each contributed $2700, the maximum allowed, to the Senator’s campaign on November 20, according to an FEC document.

And on Saturday, Legum reported that Major League Baseball made a donation on November 23, 2018:

On Sunday morning, Buster Olney from ESPN reported that MLB has requested a refund of its donation:

Hyde-Smith has recently come under fire for her racially-tinged comments about a “public hanging” and voter suppression. About both comments, the Senator said she was joking. She also apparently posted a photo of herself on Facebook, pictured in a Confederate hat and holding a period rifle. She captioned the photo: “Mississippi history at its best!” Hyde-Smith is reportedly pictured posing with Greg Stewart. Stewart is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a member of Free Mississippi, a hate group.

On Friday, Jackson Free Press reporter Ashton Pittman tweeted:

(She sent her daughter to attend a segregation academy as well)

Hyde-Smith fits well within the GOP’s increasingly racist strategy. Earlier this month, PBS White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, who is an African American woman, asked Trump, “There are some people that say that now the Republican Party is seen as supporting white nationalists because of your rhetoric. What do you make of that?”

The president, who declared himself a Nationalist in October, scolded Alcindor, saying, “That’s such a racist question.” He added, “To say that what you said is very insulting to me. It’s a very terrible thing what you said.”

Contrary to President Trump’s claims, not only have we seen a surge in racist rhetoric from the GOP fueling white nationalist groups, but their actions speak for themselves.

Donors Jump Ship

Backlash against Hyde-Smith from her corporate supporters mounted quickly after Popular Information first reported on retail giant Walmart’s contribution to her campaign. Walmart announced its request for a refund last week, and other large companies scrambled to renounce the Republican Senator and request their money back.

A spokesperson from Walmart told me that the Senator’s “comments don’t reflect the core values of our company, so we made a decision to request a refund.”

Other corporate contributors to Hyde-Smith’s campaign followed suit. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer stated, “We condemn racism and bigotry in all its forms. We are withdrawing our support and have requested a full refund of our contributions.”

The list of companies requesting refunds has continued to grow, as AT&T (which owns the naming rights to the Giants’ ballpark), Aetna, Union Pacific, Boston Scientific, Leidos, and Amgen withdrew their support.

Espy tweeted on Friday:

Google has also contributed to Hyde-Smith’s campaign. According to Legum, the tech giant has expressed regret, but has not requested a refund of its $5000 contribution.


Earlier this month, 20,000 Google employees staged a walkout of Google offices around the world. The employees’ grievances included a history of systemic racism. Google’s 2018 Diversity site says the company has “embraced a refreshed and accelerated approach to diversity and inclusion.”

Notable corporate contributors to Hyde-Smith that have not commented include the U.S Chamber of Commerce, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, General Dynamics Mission Systems, and Nucor. The largest steel producer in the country, Charlotte-based Nucor paid $22 million earlier this year to settle a racial discrimination suit.

Johnson’s contribution to Hyde-Smith is his second controversial political donation made this year. In October, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that he gave money to a political action committee behind a racist radio ad in Arkansas. The ad featured two women saying Democrats could bring back lynchings if black voters don’t support the GOP.

Johnson claimed to have no knowledge of that contribution. The San Francisco Giants released a statement calling the ad “disturbing and divisive political activity.” The team also stated:

“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.”

Johnson’s controversial donations are not emblematic of the Giants’ organization. The team has been notably generous with donations to worthy causes. In response to the recent wildfires in Northern California, the Giants, through their community fund, donated $25,000 to the American Red Cross and the North Valley Community Foundation.

A Problematic History Of Racism In Baseball

Billy Bean is a senior adviser to Major League Baseball’s commissioner Rob Manfred. A former player, Bean came out as gay after he left the Padres in 1995. He is MLB’s ambassador of inclusion. As reported by the Seattle Times, “Bean says racism didn’t end the day Jackie Robinson ran across the field.”

Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947 when he became the first African American player in Major League Baseball. Branch Rickey, a Brooklyn Dodgers executive, advocated for Jackie who faced on and off-field racist hatred and violence. Opposing players’ spikes-up slides aimed to tear his flesh, pitchers’ beanballs thrown at his head were meant to concuss or kill him. Haters mailed him death threats.

My mother was a great Jackie Robinson fan when she was growing up in Brooklyn. A photo in her girlhood scrapbook from Ebbets Field in 1948 she captioned, “Dodgers won!”

(Eileen W. Levine photo, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, NY, 1948)

(Eileen W. Levine photo, Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, NY, 1948)

When I was growing up, my mother regaled me with anecdotes about Jackie. I’d ask her to repeat this one over and over:

A seminal moment in baseball history came when Jackie was the target of especially vicious racist slurs in Cincinnati in 1947. Pee Wee Reese was the Dodgers beloved shortstop and team captain. Amidst the abuse raining down from the stands, Pee Wee slung his arm around Jackie’s shoulder and quieted the hateful mob (there’s some historical debate about when the embrace happened, but there’s no argument about the impact of Reese’s alliance with Jackie).

(National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

(National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 30 years. When I was a kid in New York, my father took me to see the San Francisco Giants play against the Mets at Shea Stadium. My dad infused me with the glory of watching Giants legends Willie Mays and Willie McCovey step into the batter’s box.

Hall of Famer McCovey recently passed away at age 80. The Giants honored the memory of the beloved hero, for whom the picturesque cove bordering their ballpark is named.

McCovey had shared his memories in an NBC video about growing up in the deep south, and facing “racial flack” in the minor leagues: “We didn’t know any other way at the time, that’s the way it was, and that’s the way we thought it was always going to be… although you knew it wasn’t right.” McCovey recalled playing for the Giants’ Double-A farm team in Texas, recounting how in some towns, “the black guys weren’t even allowed to play. That’s how bad it was in certain places.”

In a poignant thread on Twitter, a professor of physics from California reflected on the Giants’ proud history. He wrote: The @sfgiants are a model for inclusion in sports — the two biggest, most beloved stars of the SF era, Willie Mays & the late Willie McCovey, grew up in Jim Crow Alabama,” and concludes, “Until and unless Mr Johnson recalls his contribution to Smith, like @walmart, @att, @pfizer, I will not attend another @sfgiants game. This action is inconsistent with the values of the San Francisco community and of the Giants.”

Marcos Bretón, news columnist for the Sacramento Bee, wrote that Johnson “is free to support financially the racist people or causes of his choice. And as someone who has followed the Giants and dumped a considerable amount of money on Giants tickets and merchandise for more than 40 years, I am free to divert my discretionary income elsewhere as long as Mr. Johnson is on the scene.”

(Nancy Levine (me) at San Francisco Giants game, 2016)

(Nancy Levine (me) at San Francisco Giants game, 2016)

Silence From MLB

Mississippi is currently home to two minor league Double-A affiliates of MLB teams. The Biloxi Shuckers are affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Mississippi Braves are an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.

A member of MLB staff told me the league declines to comment on the Johnson donation. A spokesperson for Minor League Baseball told me, “Since Mr. Johnson does not have any connection to the Biloxi or Mississippi teams that I am aware of, I don’t believe it would be appropriate for Minor League Baseball to comment.”

There is precedent for how American professional sports leagues handle team owners who commit racist transgressions. In 2014, the National Basketball Association issued a lifetime ban to Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, for racist comments he made in a recorded conversation. NBA commissioner Adam Silver dropped the hammer on Sterling, levying the maximum fine and forcing Sterling to sell the team. Silver said, “We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA.”

Charles B. Johnson’s enterprises are not limited to his ownership stake in the Giants. Until 2013, he was chairman of the board of Franklin Resources (NYSE: BEN). He’s the company’s largest individual shareholder — he owns about $3.3 billion worth of stock.

Though Johnson lists his employer as “RETIRED” on the FEC document, a 2018 proxy statement from Franklin Resources lists Johnson as “currently employed as an Executive Consultant who, among other family relationships, is the father of Gregory E. Johnson, Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer and a director of the Company, Charles E. Johnson, a director of the Company and Jennifer M. Johnson, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Company and brother of Rupert H. Johnson Jr., Vice Chairman and a director of the Company.”

While Johnson’s political contributions are not in violation of any formal rules, his family members who sit on the board of directors of Franklin Resources face other considerations.

As I previously reported for Rantt Media on a different matter, Bruce Kogut, Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Professor of Leadership and Ethics at Columbia Business School, told me that publicly held companies “have a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders.” He added, “Reputation is certainly part of that.”

Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, Chief Research Officer at the Reputation Institute, told me, “Charles B. Johnson’s donation to Cindy Hyde-Smith has the potential to negatively backfire on the reputation of Franklin Resources and the San Francisco Giants.”

Michael Gordon, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Business Administration and Faculty Director, Center for Social Impact, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, told me, “The SEC’s Code of Corporate Governance for publicly traded companies puts the onus on a company’s board to ‘identify the legitimate needs of their stakeholder’ — notice: not only shareholders — and to be ‘mindful that their decisions affect stockholders, stakeholders, and our entire society.’”

BlackRock is the second largest institutional shareholder of Franklin Resources; they hold about $790 million of value in Franklin stock. BlackRock CEO Laurence Fink wrote, “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose… every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”

As of this writing, no one from the San Francisco Giants, Franklin Resources, Google, BlackRock, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, General Dynamics Mission Systems, or Nucor has responded to requests for comment.

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News // Cindy Hyde-Smith / Elections / Midterms / Mississippi / Racism / Republican Party / Senate