Murkowski all in for Hyde-Smith, despite ‘hanging’ remark

Photo of Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, from her Senate office.

Some campaign contributors asked Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., for a refund after the senator made a light-hearted remark about “public hanging.” But Sen. Lisa Murkowski made a maximum campaign contribution. Murkowski said she won’t condemn her Republican colleague for “one comment … at one gathering.”

Juneau resident Aaron Brakel sounded the alarm on Twitter after he saw a post about Murkowski’s contribution to Hyde-Smith.

“I was tremendously disappointed and upset,” he said.

So he did some research. The Hyde-Smith campaign reported it received the contribution more than a week after the video emerged of Hyde-Smith praising a constituent by saying: “If he invited me to a public hanging I’d be on the front row.”

Lots of people saw that as a reference to lynching. To Brakel, the remark was steeped in racism.

“‘Public hanging.’ And we’re talking about Mississippi, right?” Brakel said. According to the NAACP, no state saw more lynchings than Mississippi.

Other social media posts emerged, like a photo of Hyde-Smith posing in a Confederate soldier’s cap, saying it was Mississippi history “at its best.” Then came a video of her joking about making it harder for liberals to vote.

On Nov. 20, Walmart and other prominent companies ended their support for Hyde-Smith and asked for their contributions back. But that same day, the campaign received $5,000 from Murkowski.

Brakel said he considers it morally wrong. He describes himself as a progressive Democrat but he voted for Murkowski in 2010. He said he holds her “to a higher standard” because Alaskans of many political stripes kept her in office.

“I think Sen. Murkowski needs to make a public statement explaining her contribution,” he said.

Before we get to that, some mechanics of how political money flows: The contribution didn’t come from Murkowski’s pocket. It came from her leadership Political Action Committee.

Members of Congress have leadership PACs to distribute money to like-minded candidates, to cement loyalties and to raise their own political profiles. Leadership PACs also present special interests with another opportunity to give to politicians they like.

Murkowski’s Denali Leadership PAC has raised more than half a million dollars since the start of last year. Its contributors are mostly other PACs, the traditional kind that are affiliated with corporations and trade associations. Energy companies. Osteopaths. General Dynamics, General Electric, General Motors — the list of Denali’s PAC contributors is long.

Murkowski said her PAC has given to Hyde-Smith three times this year, for the primary, the general and the runoff.

“I made the contribution to her based on my relationship with her as an individual,” Murkowski explained.

Murkowski said she doesn’t know the timing of the latest $5,000 check. Hyde-Smith reported it on the 20th, but Murkowski is not sure if it was written before or after other contributors demanded refunds.

She said she was disturbed by the “hanging” remark “and wanted to know in what context it came about.”

Ultimately, the context that mattered to Murkowski was everything she’d seen of Hyde-Smith since the new senator was sworn in in April. And Murkowski said racism was not part of that picture.

“One comment that was made at one gathering — I’m not going to let that be a determinant as to how I classify an individual,” she said.

Murkowski didn’t ask for a refund and said she looks forward to serving with her in the years to come.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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