The San Francisco Giants are facing calls for a boycott after a report that its largest shareholder, Charles B. Johnson, donated to the campaign of Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.).
Hyde-Smith, who faces Democrat Mike Espy in a runoff election today, has repeatedly made headlines for racist and bigoted comments she has made, including one condoning “public hangings.”
Her opponent is a black man, and for many, the comment carried overtones of Mississippi’s disturbing history of lynchings of African-Americans.
Johnson later requested that his donation be returned after facing mounting pressure to do so.
Civil rights attorney John Burris, the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP and other local activists said they would boycott the team over donations totaling $5,400 that Johnson and his wife made to Hyde-Smith’s campaign nine days after video of the candidate’s “public hanging” comment surfaced.
“This is outrageous, hurtful conduct not only to me philosophically, but certainly to people who live there that they could be subjected to that kind of violence,” Burris told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Rev. Amos Brown, the president of the local NAACP chapter, said at a news conference on Monday, “The Good Book says where your treasure is, that is your heart. To San Francisco and the Giants, Mr. Charles Johnson has shown that his heart is on the side of oppression, terror, lynching and racist practices.”
Johnson’s attorney Joe Cotchett told reporters in his Burlingame office on Monday that his client wasn’t aware of Hyde-Smith’s racist remarks.
“Sometimes all of us screw up,” Cotchett said, adding that Johnson, the 85-year old retired chair of Franklin-Templeton Investments, should have done more research about where he was sending his money. Cotchett claimed that Johnson was merely responding to GOP calls for Republicans to donate to candidates in tight races.
He also said Johnson had asked him to look into getting the donation returned before Tuesday’s election, as a number of corporate donors — including Google, Walmart, Major League Baseball and AT&T ― have done.
Cotchett did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
He reportedly further addressed the matter on local radio station KNBR on Tuesday:
In the wake of the backlash, Johnson released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he requested that his money be refunded. “I was not aware of the controversy surrounding Hyde-Smith when I made the donation,” he wrote.
Brown and Burris told a local CBS affiliate that the boycott was still on, despite Johnson’s statement. Brown and Johnson are expected to meet on Thursday.
This is the second time in recent weeks that Johnson has faced backlash over questionable donations. In October he came under fire for a $1,000 donation he made to a super PAC called Black Americans for the President’s Agenda. The group released a racist radio ad in Arkansas claiming Democrats would support lynchings.
Johnson withdrew his support from the PAC, saying he didn’t know his money would be used for such an ad and condemning “any form of racism.”
Giants President and CEO Larry Baer issued a statement on Monday condemning “racist and hateful language and behavior.” But he added that the team has “more than 30 owners” who “come from different backgrounds and have their own political views.”
“Many give to Democratic causes, many to Republican causes and some refrain from politics altogether,” he wrote. “Neither I nor anyone else at the Giants can control who any of our owners support politically, just as we cannot and should not control whom any of our employees support politically.”
Johnson owns 26 percent of the Giants, according to the Chronicle.
Burris said Baer’s statement didn’t adequately address the impact of comments like Hyde-Smith’s on the black community.
“I understand that people make political contributions to whomever they want,” Burris said at Monday’s news conference. “But to make contributions to a woman who has a history as an avowed segregationist in a state with a long-standing history” demands a response from community leaders.
This story has been updated to include Johnson’s statement and Brown’s and Burris’ response.