Should MLB Continue Making Political Donations?

DSC_0325There’s been a lot of talk recently about the $10,000 that MLB’s PAC has given to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, especially since $5,000 of that came just days after she made remarks about wanting to sit in the first row for a “public hanging.” Even though MLB has asked for the money back and apparently set in motion a process to more thoroughly screen donations made to candidates, the donation has caused a lot of embarrassment for MLB and led to fans asking why the league’s even getting financially invested in politics.

In terms of the embarrassment, Rob Manfred and other executives are quickly trying to address the situation. Manfred has said the donation was made from a lobbyist employed by Major League Baseball who was unaware of the controversial comments the Senator made (though that makes me wonder how good he is at his job since they were BIG news in the political world). Furthermore, the money was apparently made in lieu of attending a Republican fundraiser in the days leading up to Hyde-Smith’s runoff election.

The day after the donation started receiving media attention, MLB announced it had asked for the money back. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo, the league also made two more donations totally another $5,000 before the controversial comments were made and executives eventually asked for those back as well.

Finally, David Adler of MLB.com reports that the Rob Manfred addressed the donation and Hyde-Smith’s remarks while speaking at a charity event in New York. “First and most important,” the Commissioner said, “the comments attributed to this particular candidate are completely at odds with the values that Major League Baseball has always embraced.”

With all this work is going into backtracking on a donation made to a controversial Senator, a lot of fans are rightfully asking why MLB is even making donations to political candidates in the first place. The answer’s simple — most big businesses do it in one form or another in order to curry favor and help advance policy that would be favorable to the organization. Over the years, MLB has donated almost $4 million to at least 320 politicians. Most of the recipients were incumbents and there was no clear preference for political party (though during this cycle, Democrats received more money than Republicans).

These donations are made, at least in part, knowing that they help MLB have influence over Members of Congress. Baseball executives have used this when talking about certain pieces of legislation, like the Save America’s Pastime Act. As Mike Axisa from CBS Sports points out, this was slipped into a $1.3 trillion spending package that was over 2,000 pages long earlier this year and gives MLB the right to continue paying Minor League players less than the minimum wage. This could prove to be a big victory considering there are lawsuits pending about the issue.

MLB also holds discussions with lawmakers on issues like antitrust legislation so it’s harder to claim it’s a monopoly that stifles competition and regulations related to gambling — especially in light of the Supreme Court ruling that legalized sports gambling. With so many players coming from outside the United States in recent years and the intensity surrounding the immigration debate in Washington, it also shouldn’t be surprising that baseball executives have been actively involved in immigration related discussions.

As a community organizer, I have seen firsthand how this process works. While I’ve advocated for creating policy that would limit the influence large corporations and the uber wealthy can have on the political process, I frequently meet with politicians at all levels of government and realize that donations I’ve made over the years have probably opened some doors for me. Since this is how “the game” currently works, it shouldn’t be surprising that big companies like MLB and a community organizer for a relatively small organization like me are trying to use the system to their advantage.

Even if money is taken out of the picture, it’s in the best interest of Major League Baseball to maintain relationships with politicians. This might lead to some controversies like we’ve seen with the donation to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, but it’s going to help create policy that’s favorable to the organization in the long run. These benefits far outweigh having to deal with a controversy that’ll likely be quickly forgotten in the era of 24/7 cable news. So while I definitely don’t support Hyde-Smith and am disappointed in some of the political maneuvering MLB has done over the years, I believe baseball executives should remain active in the political process.

About Bryan J. Scrafford

Bryan Scrafford is a community organizer based in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. Since first becoming involved in Virginia politics during his college days at George Mason University, Scrafford has been a fierce advocate for LGBT equality, economic justice, and other progressive causes. He's involved in several community organizations, including being the state director for Americans for Democratic Action.
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