Disney and its affiliates have donated more than $2.3 million in Florida this election cycle, including money for elected officials, their political committees, and committees run by one of the state’s leading business groups. That total includes the supply of hotel rooms and theme park tickets, as well as campaign checks. The money has trickled down to individual lawmakers as well as political committees controlled by Republican and Democratic leaders.
But DeSantis and many state Republicans have refused to return campaign contributions to the California-based entertainment giant, who have criticized Disney’s opposition to a law banning gender identity and sexual orientation instruction beginning in kindergarten. up to third grade. Late last month, DeSantis and the Legislature stripped the company of special privileges that allowed it to operate as its own municipal government in central Florida.
Disney has given the Florida Republican Party $255,000 in checks since January 2021, as well as nearly $142,000 in in-kind donations that covered lodging, food and entertainment costs to visit Disney parks. However, the party refused to answer questions about whether it would return any donations.
DeSantis’ re-election campaign, which received $50,000 from Disney through his political committee in March 2021, as well as an additional $50,000 two years earlier, has not returned it even as the company is regularly attacked by the Republican governor. The campaign declined to comment on the donations received from Disney.
“They’ve had a free ride in this state for 50 years and I think they got arrogant,” DeSantis told more than 250 people earlier this week at a fundraising dinner for the Leon County Republican Party, where he was the main speaker. “They think they call the shots and I think they think the rest of us will lean in and say, ‘Okay, whatever you want.’ Not with this sheriff in town. That’s not going to happen.”
The amount of money given will not make or break any candidate or elected official. But he highlights how the governor is willing to accept tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions while also punishing the company, a move one state Democrat called “performative.”
The Republican sponsor of the bill that sparked the fight between DeSantis and Disney was one of the few Republicans in the state to return contributions to Disney.
State Rep. Joe Harding (R-Williston), who sponsored the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, sent over $8,000 he had received from Disney. His bill, which opponents have labeled “Don’t Say Gay,” has been called a sweeping attack on the LGBTQ community. Some say it could further marginalize some students and lead to bullying and even suicide.
“I cannot align myself with a corporation taken over by the awakened leftist mob mentality coming out of California and other blue states,” Harding said in a statement. He was one of three Republicans who paid Disney back.
Harding shrugged off questions about Republicans withholding his donations from Disney.
“I did it just out of principle on my part, I don’t have a positive or negative opinion of other people,” Harding said in a telephone interview. “Those are decisions they made. For me, I felt like it was something I needed to do. I never saw it as creating a movement.”
Harding’s decision to return the funds came days after the Florida Democratic Party abruptly canceled plans to hold its biggest annual fundraiser at Disney World after the party’s LGBTQ caucus and other top Democrats threatened to boycott the event. Disney gave $138,881 to the Florida Democratic Party this election cycle, of which $113,881 was in-kind contributions.
In March, Disney announced it would stop making campaign donations in Florida amid backlash over its confused response to Harding’s bill, though the company only publicly criticized the move after facing harsh criticism from employees and activists for not take a position. The company also said it hoped the law would be struck down or struck down by the courts. A group of LGBTQ advocates has already filed a federal lawsuit. It was Disney’s push to advocate for the law’s repeal that drew the ire of DeSantis and other Republicans.
In his comments to Republicans this week, DeSantis called it “one of the dumbest things a corporation has ever done.”
Records show that Disney gave the Florida Republican senatorial campaign more than $380,000 in checks and in-kind donations in the past 15 months, including a $65,000 check at the start of this year’s legislative session in January. That political committee, controlled by incoming Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and previously led by state Senate President Wilton Simpson, has not returned the funds.
The political committee aiding Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody, who may have to defend the state if Disney sues over the law that nullifies her special privileges, received $25,000 last year from Disney. Her re-election campaign also declined to comment.
Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, a Republican ally of DeSantis and whose political committee received a $10,000 check in February, as well as $51,000 in housing, travel and other expenses last September from the company, was among those the few who defended holding on to Disney money.
“Those who contribute to [Patronis’] political committees are supporting his agenda to keep taxes low and strengthen our financial health,” said Melissa Stone, a spokeswoman for his re-election campaign. “The CFO does not expect to agree with any one donor 100 percent of the time. As the father of two children, CFO Patronis wholeheartedly supports the Governor and his efforts to protect the rights of parents in education, especially when it comes to protecting public school children as young as kindergarten. up to the third grade.
However, state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) said the Republicans’ refusal to return the Disney money highlights the drama of the situation.
“If Disney is so ‘wake up’ and profiting from communist China (as DeSantis has said before), why don’t the Republicans return the millions they’ve received in ‘wake money’?” Eskamani asked in a text message. “This is petty, punitive, performative policy: Florida Republicans are such good actors that they should be hired by Disney.”