Five board members from the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation (which organized tonight’s debate between Hyde Smith and Mike Espy), made contributions to Hyde Smith’s election campaign on Oct. 17. According to records, Mike McCormick, the president of Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, gave Hyde Smith $500 that day. Since July, four other board members have donated $4,000 total to Hyde Smith. The 26 members of the current board, which includes 25 white men and one woman, have not given to Hyde-Smith’s Democratic opponent Mike Espy in this cycle. Jon Kalahar (communications director at Farm Bureau) stated that these five members of a 26-member board are engaged in many activities. “Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation” will not speak on behalf of the board members or their individual political views. “There was no MFBF sponsored or sanctioned event that day or any other time,” said Jon Kalahar, communications director for Farm Bureau. The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation is one of the most powerful lobbies within Mississippi government. It represents over 193,000 farmers across all 82 counties. It describes itself on its website as “a voluntary non-governmental, non-partisan organisation seeking solutions to problems that affect the lives of farm families both economically and socially.” Ted Kendall IV ($1,000), Mike Ferguson ($500), Noble Guedon ($1,000), and Donald Gant ($500). Hyde-Smith was also given $1,000 by Kendall on June 6. Kalahar stated that there was no Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation event that day. The Mississippi Farm Bureau has supported Hyde Smith and other Republicans for the past ten years. Hyde-Smith was the state’s commissar of agriculture and commerce between 2011 and 2018, and was previously a state senator. He has received many awards, acknowledgments, and publicity from the Federation. Kalahar stated that Farm Bureau doesn’t endorse political candidates. However, the Mississippi federation has a long tradition of honoring Republicans in Washington. This includes in election years. Just four days before Election Day, Hyde Smith and the rest of Washington’s Republican delegates received a “Friend of Farm Bureau Award,” from the federation. Kalahar stated that U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson was the longest-tenured state delegate and the lone Democrat representing the agrarian Delta. He received the award the previous two years. McCormick, president of the Farm Bureau, stated in a Nov. 2, release that “We are proud” to recognize Senators Roger Wicker and Hyde Smith for their support of Mississippi farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural interests. “Senator Wicker is a true advocate for removing burdensome regulations from the EPA, and championing rural broadband. Senator Hyde Smith has been a strong representative of Southern agriculture in the Senate debate on the 2018 Farm Bill. “On behalf of all our members I just want to thank you.” Hyde-Smith’s relationship with the organization predates her election to the Senate. Farm Bureau invited farmers to her office in November 2017 while she was still Ag commissioner. Farm Bureau presented Hyde-Smith with their annual Distinguished Service Award in December 2013 when she was her first term as Ag Commissioner. Hyde-Smith was the keynote speaker at Farm Bureau’s Women’s Leadership Conference in 2012. Hyde-Smith was a state senator from 2008 to 2008. She received the annual Ag Ambassador Award of the Federation. Espy represented Delta farmland in the 1980s, 1990s, and was elected as U.S. secretary of agriculture. However, Espy spoke with the group in 1990, according to his campaign. According to Espy’s spokesperson Danny Blanton, the Espy campaign refused to participate in the Farm Bureau debate at first. Instead, it cited “a moral obligation”, according to Espy, to accept an earlier debate proposal by Jackson-based Millsaps College. According to an Associated Press report, Millsaps sent a request for debate to the candidates on the day following the Nov. 6th election. Representatives of Farm Bureau maintain that they did not coordinate with Hyde Smith’s campaign regarding the debate, despite the financial support Hyde Smith received from Farm Bureau leaders. Kalahar stated that the invitation was sent to both campaigns via one email on November 7, at 3:53 pm. “All communications related to this debate have been provided to both camps,” Kalahar said. Melissa Scallan, a spokeswoman of Hyde Smith, stated that she received the invitation via Farm Bureau prior to the Millsaps/MPB invitation. She also claimed that Hyde Smith did not have the time to attend two debates. Hyde Smith and Espy declined offers to debate before Election Day. Hyde Smith cited commitments in Washington, while Espy noted a decreasing desire to debate without the incumbent senator. Hyde-Smith was caught on video saying that she wouldn’t debate fellow Republican Chris McDaniel (a Tea Party favorite) in October. Kalahar, the spokesperson, stated that among Farm Bureau’s 193,000 members, there are likely to be members who support Secretary Espy through donations, as well as other candidates for local and state office. Mississippi Today’s complete coverage of the historic runoff between Cindy Hyde Smith and Mike Espy can be found here.