Google, Facebook, and other companies have asked to take back their contributions to Mississippi Republican senatorial candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith in the wake of growing controversy over her celebration of Confederate history, comments about a “public hanging,” and other newly surfaced incidents and information. But more than a dozen other high-profile public companies, including UPS, have yet to publicly withdraw their financial support.
Earlier this month, Hyde-Smith made headlines when she said of one of her supporters that “if he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” She is running against Mike Espy, who is black, and to many, the comment evoked the state’s history of lynchings of African-Americans. The next day, Hyde-Smith was recorded endorsing voter suppression on college campuses, specifically saying that “there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools that maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it a little more difficult.”
Reporters investigating Hyde-Smith’s background have since discovered that the former state senator posted a picture of herself with Confederate artifacts on Facebook, and that as a state legislator, she backed a resolution that promoted a revisionist history of the Civil War sympathetic to the side defending slavery. The Jackson Free Press also reported that Hyde-Smith attended a segregated private academy that was founded to circumvent desegregation orders. Hyde-Smith sent her daughter to a similar school, from which she graduated last year.
Following the negative media attention, political action committees affiliated with Facebook, Major League Baseball, Google, Pfizer, Leidos, Walmart, Union Pacific, Boston Scientific, Amgen, AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Ernst & Young have requested that their donations be refunded. Several of these companies specifically evoked Hyde-Smith’s “divisive” statements or their commitment to diversity and inclusion as the reason for withdrawing financial support. Pfizer condemned “racism and bigotry in all its forms” in a statement to the Washington Examiner.
But at least a dozen other national companies and organizations that have donated to Hyde-Smith’s campaign have not publicly asked for their donations back.
According to Federal Election Commission filings, PACs for media companies like Comcast/NBCUniversal have contributed to Hyde-Smith’s campaign, as have those for corporations like Amazon, Ford, Delta Airlines, UPS, FedEx, and Best Buy. Major financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and PricewaterhouseCoopers have also given to Hyde-Smith’s re-election effort, as have law firms DLA Piper and Hogan Lovells. Even the American Kennel Club is a donor.
A spokesperson for UPS did not distance the company from its PAC’s donation. The Intercept has reached out to the other companies listed above to see if they stand by their support, and will update this story with their responses.
Other notable contributors include four members of the DeVos family, which made its billions by co-founding Amway. Daniel DeVos, CEO of DP Fox Ventures and majority owner, president, and CEO of the professional hockey team the Grand Rapids Griffins, has given $2,700, as have Amway President Doug DeVos and Suzanne DeVos, vice president of corporate affairs at Amway and sister to Doug and Daniel. Betsy DeVos, secretary of education for the Trump administration, is married to the fourth sibling, Dick DeVos.
Until Hyde-Smith’s stumbles, the special election runoff for the Senate seat opened up by Thad Cochran’s resignation last April received comparatively little media coverage and very little support from the national Democratic Party. This was also true of Mississippi’s other Senate race this year, which Democratic challenger David Baria lost to incumbent Republican Roger Wicker.
Although President Donald Trump visited Mississippi to campaign for Hyde-Smith in late October (and came back to the state to campaign for Hyde-Smith yesterday), the highest-profile politicians to stump for Espy prior to the midterms were former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. Espy’s path to victory requires Barack Obama-level turnout, but although the former president did a lot of campaigning during the midterms in states like Illinois, Georgia and Florida, he skipped Mississippi, where he won over 43 percent of voters in 2008. (Booker has returned to the state to campaign for Espy since the midterms, and newly elected Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley flew to Mississippi over the weekend to help get out the vote.)
Moreover, as The Intercept reported, the Republican Party outspent the Democrats 4 to 1 in the state, and while Republican candidates benefited from millions in independent expenditures, Democrats garnered lesser amounts. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, or DSCC, spent over $26 million on independent expenditures targeting Republican candidates, but none of that money was leveraged against Hyde-Smith prior to the November 8 midterms (when Espy came in second in the first round of the special election). PowerPAC, which is dedicated to electing diverse candidates, has spent $91,000 in support of Espy since the midterms, while People for the American Way, a liberal PAC founded by television producer Norman Lear, and Progressive Turn Out PAC both made substantial contributions to Espy’s campaign on Sunday. But the DSCC has not contributed directly.
By contrast, the National Republican Congressional Committee has given over $21,000 to Hyde-Smith’s campaign since the midterms, adding to a post-midterm independent expenditure haul of nearly $470,000.
In terms of direct contributions, since November 6, Espy has brought in a little more than $56,000, of which Act Blue, a Democratic PAC, contributed nearly $19,000. Hyde-Smith has raked in nearly $110,000 during that same period.
That imbalance carries over to spending on advertising as well. Hyde-Smith and her supporters spent approximately $2.7 million on broadcast and cable ads between November 7 and 24, while Espy’s camp spent $1.2 million. Espy has run three ads for every four of Hyde-Smith’s. Hyde-Smith’s ads have attempted to paint Espy, a moderate, as aligned with a “leftist mob,” leveraging resentment over opposition to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh against him. Espy’s ads paint Hyde-Smith as a “disaster” who has embarrassed the state with her recent comments.
The Washington Post reported that the DSCC continues to be “hesitant to elaborate” on how or how much it’s spending on Espy’s race. “It’s a Mississippi race run by Mississippians,” DSCC senior adviser Ben Ray told the Daily Beast. Moreover, the Democratic Party seems as reluctant to use the racial controversy to raise money or galvanize voters now as they were before the midterms. Democratic consultant Joe Trippi tweeted the video of Hyde-Smith’s milquetoast apology for her “hanging” comment with a request for donations to Espy’s campaign, but the Democratic National Committee has not followed suit.
The Washington Post characterized the DNC’s reticence as “strategically disciplined” — “part of an effort to minimize any perception that Washington is pulling the strings in Espy’s campaign.” That may be right, but their hands-off approach is consistent with the party’s historical attitude to Mississippi and is in line with a broader pattern of abandoning so-called red states as lost causes — a pattern which some, including, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., think should end.
Arguably, the attention Espy is now receiving would have been more helpful prior to the midterms when the Republican vote was split between Hyde-Smith and Chris McDaniel. McDaniel nabbed only 16 percent of the vote, while Hyde-Smith won 41.3 percent and Espy got 40.9 percent. Polls predicted that Espy’s best shot at victory was a runoff with tea party candidate McDaniel, who did not enjoy the Republican Party’s support and was even more right wing and controversial than Hyde-Smith (he put the Confederate flag on his lawn signs). An NBC News/Marist poll had Espy up 7 points in a race against McDaniel, while a Mason-Dixon poll put Espy up by 2.
By comparison, the most recent surveys put Espy 10 points behind Hyde-Smith, with polls closing tonight at 8 p.m. ET. Democrats hope that high African-American turnout will push Espy to victory over his controversial opponent as it did for Alabama Sen. Doug Jones in his race against accused child molester Roy Moore. At 37 percent, Mississippi has the highest proportion of black Americans of any state, but to win, Espy would need to earn the support of one out of four white voters, in addition to getting 95 percent of black voters to vote for him at turnout levels not seen since Obama’s candidacies.