MLB asks for the return of its $5,000 donation to Cindy Hyde-Smith

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UPDATED at 8:46 AM

Over weekend, Major League Baseball created a firestorm of controversy for itself when it made a $5,000 donation — the maximum donation allowed under the law — to Mississippi senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. The donation, which was made on November 23, was first reported by Judd Legum of Popular Information. Charles Johnson, part owner of the San Francisco Giants has also made a donation to Hyde-Smith.

The donation was controversial because Hyde-Smith recently told a crowd at a campaign event that she would be “in the front row of a public hanging,” if invited. She also posed in a photo wearing a Confederate hat and holding a rifle that made the rounds on Facebook, and it was just uncovered that she sponsored a resolution praising Confederate soldiers’ “defending their homeland.” She has since (sorta) apologized for some that, but her comments and acts have stirred up racial animus and have come to dominate the news surrounding her campaign. All of that has caused corporate donors such as Walmart, Union Pacific and AT&T and others to request refunds of their donations to her.

Major League Baseball’s donation, coming after Hyde-Smith’s controversial comments and actions, created an immediate backlash once it was discovered last night. It was such a big backlash that, by 8:30am this morning, MLB asked for the donation back. MLB’s statement, first reported by Buster Olney of ESPN:

“The contribution was made in connection with an event that MLB lobbyists were asked to attend. MLB has requested that the contribution be returned.”

Given how political donations work — you have to write a check to the campaign committee by name — there is no reasonable way to read this other than (a) MLB’s lobbyists happily cut the check to Hyde-Smith not giving a rip about Hyde-Smith’s controversial comments; and (b) the moment this hit the news they realized how big a deal it was to people and are now scrambling to control the damage.

The most charitable explanation that doesn’t track like that would be that MLB lobbyists just give signed, blank checks to fundraisers and have no idea where the money goes. I don’t think that makes it much better, but I suppose we’ll hear about that soon.

 

Below is the story as it appeared at 7:20AM this morning, before MLB’s request to have its donation returned was made public:

In 2002 Major League Baseball formed a political action committee. Like a lot of PACs, it makes substantial donations to candidates. Like a lot of PACs that are more business-oriented than pet cause oriented, it tends to spread its money around to both Republican and Democratic candidates, with the level of its donations to each party varying with the political winds. I haven’t taken a close look at this for a while, but back in the 2012 cycle, for example, about 75% of the MLB Commissioner’s PAC donations went to Republicans. From what I’ve seen so far this cycle, it has broke more in favor of Democrats, at least as far as sitting members of Congress go.

Whichever way the partisan lean goes, baseball — like a lot of businesses — tends to avoid controversy or controversial candidates with its donations. Which makes the news that broke last night rather surprising: the MLB PAC donated the legal maximum — $5,000 — to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith from Mississippi ahead of her special runoff election against Democrat Mike Espy. A day earlier she received a  donation from San Francisco Giants part-owner Charles B. Johnson.

This is controversial because Hyde-Smith recently told a crowd at a campaign event that she would be “in the front row of a public hanging,” if invited. She also posed in a photo wearing a Confederate hat and holding a rifle that made the rounds on Facebook, and it was just uncovered that she sponsored a resolution praising Confederate soldiers’ “defending their homeland.”

She has since (sorta) apologized for some that, but her comments and acts have stirred up racial animus and have come to dominate the news surrounding her campaign. All of that has caused corporate donors such as Walmart, Union Pacific and AT&T and others to request refunds of their donations to her.

But not Major League Baseball. Baseball donated the maximum to her after the controversies, with the donation being made on November 23. Rob Manfred has not yet explained why the league’s PAC has seen fit to give Hyde-Smith money in light of all of this, but given the anger and agitation I’ve seen about this just since I woke up this morning and saw the news, my sense is that he had better explain himself pretty damn quickly.

A’s running out of time to find home in Oakland, Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS — The Oakland Athletics have spent years trying to get a new stadium while watching Bay Area neighbors such as the Giants, Warriors, 49ers and Raiders successfully move into state-of-the-art venues, and now time is running short on their efforts.

The A’s lease at RingCentral Coliseum expires after the 2024 season, and though they might be forced to extend the terms, the club and Major League Baseball have deemed the stadium unsuitable for a professional franchise.

They are searching for a new stadium in Oakland or Las Vegas, but they have experienced difficulties in both areas. The A’s missed a major deadline in October to get a deal done in Oakland, and there has been little indication they will receive the kind of funding they want from Las Vegas.

“I think the A’s have to look at it in a couple of ways,” said Brendan Bussmann, managing partner at Las Vegas-based B Global. “Obviously, they have struggled in Oakland to get a deal across the line. It isn’t for a lack of effort. . You have an owner that’s willing to pony up money, you have a club that wants to sit there and figure out a way to make it work, and you keep running into obstacles along the way.

“It’s time to fish or cut bait. Oakland, do you want them or not? And if not, where are the A’s going to get the best deal? Is it Vegas? Is it somewhere else? They’ll have to figure that out.”

What the A’s are thinking is a little bit of a mystery. Team President Dave Kaval was talkative earlier in the process, saying the A’s are pursuing two different tracks with Oakland and Las Vegas. But he went silent on the subject several months ago. A’s spokeswoman Catherine Aker said mostly recently that the club would withhold comment for now.

The A’s have been negotiating with Oakland to build a $1 billion stadium as part of a $12 billion redevelopment deal.

Newly elected Mayor Sheng Thao said reaching a deal is important as long as it makes economic sense to the city. Her predecessor, Libby Schaaf, led prior efforts to reach an agreement, but after the city and the A’s missed that October deadline, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed reservations a deal will ever get done.

“The pace in Oakland has not been rapid, number one,” Manfred said at the time. “We’re in a stadium situation that’s really not tenable. I mean, we need to do something to alter the situation. So I’m concerned about the lack of pace.”

Recent California history justifies his concerns. SoFi Stadium in Southern California and Chase Center in San Francisco were built with private money, and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara was 90% privately financed.

“And then I think there was some contagion where around the country people realized these deals could be done well privately and could generate a return on investment to those investors,” said David Carter, a sports business professor at the University of Southern California. “Why are we throwing public money at it at all?”

That’s also a question being asked in Las Vegas, even though the Raiders in 2016 received $750 million from the Nevada Legislature for a stadium. That then was the largest amount of public money for a sports venue, but it was surpassed last March by the $850 million pledged to construct a new stadium for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Another deal like the one for Allegiant Stadium, where the Raiders play, appears unlikely in Nevada. T-Mobile Arena, which opened in 2017, was privately financed. An arena planned for south of the Las Vegas Strip also wouldn’t rely on public funds.

Las Vegas, however, has shown financing creativity. Its Triple-A baseball stadium received $80 million in 2017 for naming rights from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Room taxes fund the authority, so it was public money in a backdoor sort of way.

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, who is on the board of the convention authority, has spoken with A’s representatives about their interest in Las Vegas and said he is aware of the club’s talks with other Nevada officials. He said the A’s are taking a much different approach than the Raiders, who identified Las Vegas early as their choice landing spot after many years of failing to get a new stadium in Oakland.

“When the Raiders decided to come to Las Vegas, they had a clear plan,” Naft said. “You had a clear body that was tasked with assessing the worth and the value, and they committed to the destination. I have not seen that from the Oakland A’s at any level, and it’s not really our job to go out and beg them to come here because we have earned the reputation of the greatest arena on Earth. We have put in both the dollars and the labor to make that the case.

“I think I’ve made myself clear, but from conversations with others, I don’t think I’m alone on that.”

New Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo “will not raise taxes” to attract the A’s or any other team, his spokeswoman, Elizabeth Ray, said in a statement. But she said the club could qualify for other ongoing “economic development programs,” which could mean tax breaks similar to what Tesla received in 2014.

Manfred said in December that the A’s relocation fee would be waived if they move to Las Vegas, a savings to the club reportedly of up to $1 billion.

“We’re past any reasonable timeline for the situation in Oakland to be resolved,” Manfred said then.

Naft said Allegiant Stadium filled a hole that went beyond landing an NFL team. It allowed Las Vegas to attract major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four and major concerts such as Garth Brooks and Elton John that “in many cases we would not otherwise have.”

He said he doesn’t believe a baseball stadium would accomplish that, and sports economist Victor Matheson agreed.

“I think there’s a real question about how much people are willing to watch baseball in Las Vegas,” said Matheson, a professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. “It’s not like locals don’t have a huge number of entertainment options right now, and it’s not clear exactly how much people might travel to watch baseball in Vegas, either.”

If the A’s truly want to be in Las Vegas, Naft said they need to make that clear.

“I just believe you can’t play destinations against each other,” Naft said. “If you want to come here and you want to be met with open arms, you’ve got to commit.”

Should the A’s fail to reach an agreement in Oakland or Las Vegas, they could consider other destinations such as Charlotte, North Carolina; Nashville; and Portland, Oregon. Whether they would have the time to explore such options is another question.

Oakland has already shown it will watch the Raiders move to Nevada and the Warriors go across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco.

Las Vegas, Matheson noted, is hardly in a desperate situation. He also expressed caution that Las Vegas could go from being among the largest metropolitan areas without a major professional sports team to among the smallest with three franchises.

“So you’ve gone from kind of being under-sported to being over-sported in a short period of time if the A’s were to go there,” Matheson said.