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Rob Manfred says MLB changing protocols on donations

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, addressing his sport's controversial campaign contributions to Cindy Hyde-Smith, said Tuesday that baseball will have more oversight of political donations going forward.

MLB on Sunday asked for a refund of $5,000 it donated to Hyde-Smith, a Mississippi Republican who defeated Democrat Mike Espy in Tuesday's Senate runoff election. Earlier this month, Hyde-Smith told supporters that she'd be "on the front row" if one of her supporters there "invited me to a public hanging" -- a remark many saw as an allusion to lynching.

Manfred, speaking at an event in Manhattan, said he regrets that MLB did not ask for the donation back sooner. Walmart, railroad owner Union Pacific and several other companies asked that their donations be returned last week, shortly after Hyde-Smith's comments came to light. The commissioner said that Hyde-Smith's comments were "completely at odds with the values that Major League Baseball has always, always embraced."

The donation was made to Hyde-Smith by a lobbyist who works for MLB. Yahoo Sports reported Monday that the lobbyist could not attend a fundraiser for Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in mid-November and was asked to give to Hyde-Smith instead.

According to Federal Election Commission records, MLB's political action committee has donated $472,500 from the start of 2017 through Oct. 17, 2018. Among the distributions were two $2,500 contributions to Hyde-Smith's Senate campaign on June 26 and Sept. 24 this year.

"Our lobbyists had a lot of discretion as to what they were doing, particularly with contributions of that size, and there's just going to be additional oversight here in New York," Manfred said Tuesday. "We did not review in advance contributions of that size."

Manfred said that in the past MLB has given autonomy to lobbyists, but in the future donations would need to be approved in New York.

Manfred did not want to comment on Charles Johnson, one of the San Francisco Giants' principal owners, and his wife Ann each making a contribution to Hyde-Smith for $2,700, the individual maximum.

"The Giants have more than 30 owners," team president Larry Baer said in a statement Monday. "Just like our fans, they 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. 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."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.