Health care giant Aetna is the latest corporation to abandon Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), requesting a refund of its donation to Hyde-Smith’s Senate campaign following her racist joke about being eager to attend a “public hanging.”
Aetna had donated $2,500 to the Hyde-Smith campaign, according to FEC records disclosed on Wednesday. In a statement on Twitter, the company said it would “redirect those funds to groups working to fight racism in our country.”
We’ve requested that Cindy Hyde-Smith refund our contribution to her Senate campaign following recent remarks that are highly offensive and simply unacceptable. We’ll redirect those funds to groups working to fight racism in our country.
— Aetna News (@AetnaNews) November 22, 2018
In early November, Hyde-Smith joked that she would accept a “front row” invitation to attend “a public hanging” — comments that evoked Mississippi’s violent history of racist killings. Between 1877 and 1950, there were more lynchings of Black people in Mississippi than in any other U.S. state.
Other major corporations including AT&T, Pfizer, Walmart, Union Pacific, and Boston Scientific have also requested refunds of their donations following the uproar over the Mississippi Senate candidate’s comments. Most of the companies say they are asking for the money back because her statements did not reflect their values.
This week’s corporate exodus from Hyde-Smith’s campaign was spurred by reporting from the newsletter Popular Information, which revealed a list of major companies that had previously donated to Hyde-Smith. (Disclosure: Popular Information was founded by Judd Legum, who also founded ThinkProgress.)
Earlier this week, during a debate between Hyde-Smith and her Democratic opponent, Mike Espy — who is vying to become the first Black senator in Mississippi since Reconstruction — the candidate offered a tepid apology for her remarks, saying she was sorry if anyone had been offended by the “joke.”
The apology has done little to repair the recent damage to what was supposed to be an easy GOP victory in Mississippi’s Senate runoff — a race that Republican strategists are now growing increasingly concerned about.
Especially following Sen. Doug Jones’ (D-AL) surprising win in Alabama last year and a potential wave of Black turnout for Espy, Hyde-Smith’s comments add to the evidence that suggests a Democratic upset isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
In addition to her lynching joke, Hyde-Smith has also recently sparked backlash for other racially insensitive comments and actions. On November 15, she was caught on video saying she thinks it would be a “great idea” to make it “just a little more difficult” to vote so that Democratic voters don’t turn out. Earlier this week, a 2014 photo of Hyde-Smith resurfaced in which she’s donning a hat emblazoned with the Confederate flag.
The Jackson Free Press reported Friday that Hyde-Smith graduated from a private school in Mississippi intended to bypass integration — one of the many institutions across the state set up to ensure that white parents would not have to send their children to school with Black students, decades after court-ordered desegregation. She then chose to send her daughter to a similar private school; her daughter graduated just last year. As the outlet reports, this detail about Hyde-Smith’s school environment, and the decision to educate her daughter in the same environment, “adds historic context” to her recent lynching comments.
The runoff election between Hyde-Smith and Espy will take place on Tuesday. President Trump is scheduled to make several campaign appearances in Mississippi early next week to help boost the GOP’s faltering candidate.
This story has been updated with additional context about the Jackson Free Press’ report.