WASHINGTON — Executives of a company that once shunned Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith have apparently come back into the fold, donating thousands of dollars to her campaign in the final days of Mississippi’s competitive U.S. Senate race.
That is just one of many revelations in eleventh-hour fundraising records, which show Democratic challenger Mike Espy has outraised Hyde-Smith more than 2-to-1 among large donors in the final stretch, according to FEC records.
Espy’s more than $460,000 in late-hour fundraising comes largely on the strength of wealthy out-of-state donors, including former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and the actor Emilio Estevez. Espy will need every cent as recent polling showed Hyde-Smith up eight points, even as Democratic insiders believe voter turnout will far exceed expectations.
Much of Hyde-Smith’s last-minute roughly $180,000 cash infusion, on the other hand, comes from political action committees representing corporations — and employees and a political action committee representing a company that publicly distanced itself from her after her 2018 “public hanging” comments.
Eight thousand dollars of donations to the Republican’s campaign committee came from high-ranking officials of scientific research company Leidos, one of the several companies that pulled support from Hyde-Smith in 2018 after she made an offensive comment that referenced lynching. Those companies have continued to withhold support from the senator after asking her to return donations two years ago.
At the time, Leidos, which has a large footprint in Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, released a statement on Twitter noting that its political action committee donation was made before the comment came to light, and “If Leidos had been aware, we would not have made the contribution.”
Several of the company’s high-ranking officials donated to Hyde-Smith on the same day last week. FEC records show Roger Krone, who has been Leidos’ chief executive since 2014, donated $2,000 on Oct. 23, making his first ever donation to the senator. The FEC documents list two of the company’s executive vice presidents, James Reagan and Roy Stevens, who also gave $2,000 each that same day. Neither had donated directly to Hyde-Smith before, according to past spending disclosures from the campaign.
The company’s top D.C. lobbyist, Valerie Baldwin, also donated $2,000 last Friday in her first ever direct donation to Hyde-Smith, according to the records.
None of them were identified as employees of Leidos on the filings, according to FEC records, but their addresses match those of the company officials. The Hyde-Smith campaign noted in its filing to the FEC that it has requested more information about the donors’ place of employment.
A Leidos spokesman declined to comment via email. But the next day, on Oct. 30, Leidos’ political action committee cut a $5,000 check to the senator, according to FEC records. The spokesman again declined to comment.
Hyde-Smith was up 8 points in the most recent statewide recent poll. Marvin P. King, Jr., a professor of American politics at the University of Mississippi, said he would not be surprised to see other companies flock back to Hyde-Smith, too.
“They’ll come back if she wins,” King said. “My bet is they’ll come back because a lot of these companies, they tend to give more to Republicans than Democrats, but they will often give to both sides.”
Hyde-Smith also took in donations from PACs representing American Airlines, the defense contractor Raytheon, a PAC representing CoreCivic, which manages private prisons and detention centers, and groups representing agricultural interests. Several companies in the oil and gas industry also donated, including Murphy Oil’s political action committee; the Petroleum Marketers Association of America; James Lipscomb, the president of Lipscomb Oil; and a PAC representing Kirby Corporation, a tank barge operator that transports oil and gas up the Mississippi River.
Hyde-Smith’s campaign spokesman did not return a request for comment asking for a full accounting of the fundraising totals including small dollar donations.
The totals only represent large contributions because campaigns are legally obligated to release records of all donations over $1,000 taken in between Oct. 15 and Election Day within 48 hours of receipt of the donation. Smaller donations aren’t subject to the same disclosure requirements in the final stretch of a campaign.
Espy, meanwhile, continued to rake in cash from out of state. Only 17 of the 276 large donations his campaign has received since Oct. 15 listed a Mississippi address, driving home criticism from his opponents that he has less support at home than he has in other states. By contrast, more than 40% of Hyde-Smith’s 87 large donations made in that time period have come from inside the state.
“The fact is almost all the money his campaign has raised is from outside of Mississippi,” said former Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican who has donated to Hyde-Smith. “It’s not Mississippians giving their money because the Mississippians who give their money, they’re going to vote for who they give their money to.”
Sixty-nine of the recent donations to Espy came from California, 32 from New York and 16 from Washington, D.C.
Overall, those numbers track with fundraising trends in the race. Almost 86% of Espy’s donations came from out-of-state people or entities, whereas just more than half of Hyde-Smith’s contributions came from people listing a Mississippi address, according to records kept by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Espy’s candidacy was nationalized, in a way, after the September death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Espy’s fundraising took off in a major way, leading to a single-day donation record, more than any Mississippi candidate in history. He outraised Hyde-Smith 45-to-1 over the first two weeks of October, but Hyde-Smith has done better of late. Her donations received just on Oct. 30 total about half of the amount she raised during the first two weeks of the year.
Some notable donors to Espy within the last two weeks include former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang as well as his Humanity Forward PAC. Yang endorsed Espy earlier this month. Also on the list are Richard Ossoff, the father of Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff; Android Inc. co-founder Rich Miner; and political committees linked to Democratic Reps. Terri Sewell of Alabama and Bobby Scott of Virginia.
Several people in the arts and entertainment industry also underwrote Espy’s campaign with last-minute checks, including the actor Emilio Estevez; Family Guy executive producer and co-showrunner Richard Appel; Discovery Inc. executive David Leavy; Despicable Me producer Christopher Meledandri; television screenwriter Shawn Ryan; music executive Jason Flom, who signed notable acts like Katy Perry, Lorde and Skid Row; and former MacGyver actress and philanthropist Michelle Soon-Shiong, who is married to the biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong.
Espy’s spokeswoman did not respond to a request to release the campaign’s full fundraising totals, including small-dollar donations.
Daniel Newhauser is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, National Journal, Politico, Roll Call, VICE News and several other publications. He can be found on Twitter @dnewhauser.