Amid a senate runoff in Mississippi, comments from Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith have led Pfizer to rebuke the senator and ask for a refund in campaign contributions.
At an appearance on Nov. 2, Hyde-Smith embraced a supporter and said, "if he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." She’s running against African American challenger Mike Espy, who said in a recent debate that the comments have given Mississippi “another black eye.”
Video of Hyde-Smith's comments quickly went viral. Now, Pfizer and several other large corporations have withdrawn support and asked for a refund in campaign contributions.
“We condemn racism and bigotry in all its forms,” a Pfizer spokesperson said in an email. “We are withdrawing our support and have requested a full refund of our contributions, which were made months in advance of the senator’s comments."
Hyde-Smith responded in a statement that she “used an exaggerated expression of regard, and any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous," according to ABC News. At a debate, she apologized to anyone offended by the comment.
Pfizer’s two contributions to Hyde-Smith totaled $5,000.
The Hyde-Smith situation isn’t the first time a Big Pharma company has had to distance itself from racial controversy. Merck CEO Ken Frazier famously exited President Donald Trump’s manufacturing council after the president’s equivocal response to white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. More recently, Sanofi defended its drug and hit back at actress Roseanne Barr after she blamed a racist tweet on Ambien.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith to the senate seat earlier this year to replace former Sen. Thad Cochran, who retired for health reasons. She’s in a runoff next week after netting 41.4% of the vote on Election Day to Espy’s 40.6%, according to ABC News.