Google is the latest company to demand a refund of a campaign contribution it made to Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi because of what critics say are her racially charged comments, including one about a “public hanging.”
Google late Monday joined a growing list of companies — including Walmart, AT&T and Pfizer — asking for their donations back ahead of Mississippi’s Tuesday election, where Hyde-Smith is facing Democrat Mike Espy, a former U.S. agriculture secretary who is black.
Hyde-Smith, who has been endorsed by President Trump, became the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress in April after she was appointed to replace Republican Sen. Thad Cochran, who had stepped down because of health problems.
Hyde-Smith’s campaign has been roiled by revelations that she embraced Confederate history at several points throughout her career. On Nov. 3, Hyde-Smith was recorded saying it’d be a “good idea” to make it more difficult for some groups to vote. Then a video posted to Twitter showed the senator saying at a Tupelo campaign stop that if a local rancher standing next to her “invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
Mississippi long had a reputation for lynching African Americans, many by hanging.
After Hyde-Smith initially refused to apologize, despite outcry from her colleagues and the public, powerful donors were unsettled. The requests for donation refunds came rolling in, with most donors specifying that they had donated to Hyde-Smith’s campaign before the video of the “public hanging” comment surfaced. She subsequently made a limited apology during a debate with Espy, saying her remarks had been “twisted” for political purposes.
Hyde-Smith’s campaign has dismissed her comments as jokes or exaggerations. But her words carry a heavy weight in Mississippi, a place with a dark history of racial violence and injustice, including one of the worst lynching records of any U.S. state. Her opponent, Espy, would be its first African American senator since Reconstruction.
U.S. tech giants have been among donors denouncing Hyde-Smith and asking for their donations back. Earlier this month, Google confirmed that its PAC had donated $5,000 to Hyde-Smith on Nov. 2.
“While we support candidates who promote pro-growth policies for business and technology, we do not condone these remarks and would not have made such a contribution had we known about them,” Google said through a spokeswoman at the time.
This weekend, Facebook confirmed that it had similarly sought a refund of the $2,500 donation it made to Hyde-Smith in September.
“The recent public comments made by Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith do not reflect the values or mission of Facebook,” Facebook said through a representative. “Our PAC contribution was made before these comments were made, and we have asked the Hyde-Smith campaign to return our campaign donation.”
A third tech company that donated to her, Amazon.com, did not respond to multiple requests for comment about its plans to seek a refund of its $2,500 donation. The contributions were made in May and June, according to FEC records. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Major League Baseball is another high-profile donor asking for its money back. The organization said its donation “was made in connection with an event that MLB lobbyists were asked to attend.” On Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that civil rights advocates were calling for a boycott of the San Francisco Giants after it was revealed that the Giants' biggest shareholder, Charles B. Johnson, donated $5,400 to Hyde-Smith’s campaign. Johnson’s attorney has said that Johnson may try to have his donation returned.
Other companies that have requested refunds include Leidos, Union Pacific and Boston Scientific, CNBC reported.
The wave of refund requests on the eve of an election was unprecedented and was probably a response to rising public pressure, said Aaron Chatterji, a professor at Duke University’s business school who studies CEO activism on political and social issues. While news surrounding these campaign contributions is unlikely to influence voters or consumers in the short-term, Chatterji said, it could set a new bar for how these kinds of contributions are scrutinized in the future, as well as the corporate decision-making that goes into them.
“Things that used to be taken for granted like lobbying and smaller contributions are going to come under the microscope,” Chatterji said. “Many companies are going to be reevaluating their entire political strategy.”