Walmart Asks Senator Hyde-Smith for Refund Over Comment on Video

(Bloomberg) -- Walmart Inc. has asked Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who is under fire for making a racially charged remark, to refund its donations.

Following a storm of criticism on social media, the retailing giant said in a tweet Tuesday that it was "requesting a refund of all campaign donations" from Hyde-Smith, who is facing a Nov. 27 runoff in Mississippi against Democrat Mike Espy, the final Senate contest of the 2018 political season.

Walmart made the decision after a video that captured Hyde-Smith saying she would be "on the front row" if invited by a supporter to a "public hanging" went viral last week. Mississippi has a history of racial bigotry and lynchings, and the comment put Hyde-Smith on the defensive.

Espy, who served as Agriculture secretary in President Bill Clinton’s cabinet, is an African-American.

Hyde-Smith’s campaign didn’t comment on Walmart’s refund request. A spokeswoman referred to a statement the senator had issued previously concerning her remark on the video. Hyde-Smith said she was reacting to a rancher standing next to her who invited her to a speaking engagement.

"In referencing the one who invited me, I used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous," she said at the time.

Espy’s campaign praised Walmart’s move, with spokesman Danny Blanton saying in a statement that the controversies show "why she can’t be trusted to work with the businesses Mississippi needs to grow good paying jobs."

Support Withdrawn

Walmart is part of a growing list of companies that are withdrawing support from Hyde-Smith after her remarks set off a burst of outrage across social media platforms. Pfizer Inc. Tuesday also requested a refund from her campaign, according to Sharon Castillo, a company spokeswoman.

Defense contractor Leidos Holdings Inc. said Monday on Twitter that Hyde-Smith’s remarks were "offensive and an affront to everything we stand for as a company," adding that it donated before they became public. Boston Scientific Corp. and Union Pacific Corp. have asked for their money back as well.

Hyde-Smith, who was appointed earlier this year upon the resignation of Republican Senator Thad Cochran, also drew criticism for suggesting, during a campaign appearance, that she approved of making it more difficult for liberals to vote. Her campaign later said she had been joking.

Walmart’s political action committee contributed a total of $4,000 to the campaign of Hyde-Smith.

The Walmart PAC sent $2,000 to Hyde-Smith’s campaign on Nov. 18, about a week after her comments became public, Federal Election Commission records show. Walmart wasn’t aware of her comments at the time it made the donation, according to a person familiar with the company’s thinking who wasn’t authorized to discuss it.

Because the race in the Republican stronghold has drawn millions in spending by super-PACs and party committees, the financial impact of Walmart’s decision could pale in comparison with the political fallout.

"Sen. Hyde-Smith’s recent comments clearly do not reflect the values of our company and associates," Walmart said in a tweet it made in response to television actress Debra Messing, who publicized the donation on Twitter.