Ron DeSantis took over the governing structure for Disney World following a political battle between the corporate giant and FloridaRepublican governor and conservative state lawmakers over controversial measure derided by opponents as “state-sponsored”Don’t say gay“law.
After pressure weeks from LGBT+ Disney advocates and employees are urging company management to lobby publicly against it, then-CEO Bob Capek announced last year that the company would oppose the bill and suspend his political donations in the state.
The Parental Education Act prohibits the teaching of “sexual orientation or gender identity” from kindergarten through third grade and any similar discussion “inappropriate for the age or development of students” in other grades.
But the broadly written law could freeze classroom speech involving LGBT+ people and issues, from civil rights history lessons to discussions of LGBT+ students, school staff and their families, which opponents warn would have a discriminatory and stultifying effect on speech on campus. Since Florida’s law, 38 similar measures have been proposed in 20 states, including 26 events in 14 states only in their current legislative sessions.
Following Disney’s public objection, Governor DeSantis and members of his administration pounced in the campaign, sparking a feud that escalated into Republican threats to punish Disney’s operations in the state and ultimately led to his administration taking control of them.
The feud between Disney and the DeSantis administration and its Republican allies has undermined what was otherwise a close relationship with one of the state’s largest employers and government officials from both parties.
The political heavyweight sends several lobbyists to Tallahassee for legislative sessions and spends tens of thousands of dollars through multiple Disney entities to Democratic and Republican lawmakers each election cycle, according to campaign finance reports.
Company financing records reviewed The Independent found that the Disney companies contributed thousands of dollars to the re-election campaigns of major sponsors of the Parental Rights in Education Act, as well as at least $50,000 to the governor’s 2022 re-election campaign, despite the company LGBT+ public advocacy.
At a Feb. 27 event, the governor signed a bill that marks the state’s takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the governing body surrounding Disney World’s Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista properties, which cover 39 square miles and land in Orange and Osceola counties. .
The district, introduced in 1967, allows Disney to effectively control its own land use and zoning regulations, as well as manage its own public services, including water, sewer, emergency services and infrastructure maintenance.
Because Disney is the primary landowner in the county, the company is largely responsible for all costs of municipal services that would otherwise fall under the jurisdiction of county and local governments, including the taxpayers who live in them, which significantly eases the burden from neighboring countries and puts it in one of the largest companies in the world. Essentially, Disney taxes itself to pay the district’s bills for all of its municipal needs.
“Today, the corporate kingdom finally ends,” the governor said at the Reedy Creek Fire Station in Lake Buena Vista on Feb. 27. “There’s a new sheriff in town and accountability will be the order of the day.”
Noting the public reversal of his original reasons for the takeover, Gov. DeSantis said the move was aimed at what he called “a movement within the corporation itself … who say it’s their job or their purpose to inject a lot of this sexuality into programming for young children”.
On April 19, 2022, Republican State Representative Randy Fine introduced House Bill 3C, the Independent Special Constituencies Bill. accompanying measure, Senate Bill 4Cwas introduced in the state Senate.
The governor and his administration insisted the original proposal was intended to block what they called “special privileges” for big business in the state, though his fundraising posts at the campaign that promoted the death of Reedy Creek indicated an “awakened” Disney’s opposition to the so-called Don’t Say Gay.
“Disney thought they ran Florida,” his company said in an April 19 email. “They even tried to attack me to push their agenda. Parents now see Disney for what it is. And now is the time to put the power back in the hands of the people of Florida and out of the pockets of woke leaders.”
State lawmakers bristled at the governor’s initial plans to dissolve Reedy Creek amid concerns it would lead to violate state law and burden Florida residents with higher property taxeseffectively forcing them to pay for infrastructure projects like road construction that Disney is now paying for through Reedy Creek.
Instead, the governor’s own appointees will be in charge of the county and its taxing, building and borrowing powers under the new “Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.”
That council meets next week, “so buckle up,” Governor DeSantis said.
“There will be no additional tax burden on Floridians in central Florida or otherwise,” the governor vowed Monday, adding that the new arrangement “will reduce the tax burden on people in central Florida.”
Orlando Democratic State Rep. Anna Escamani the statement said that “it’s absolutely wild to see a self-proclaimed capitalist like DeSantis celebrate a government takeover of a private board of directors.”
“All this bill does is rename Reedy Creek and allow Governor DeSantis to appoint hostile conservative friends to the new board,” she said. “Disney still retains the same tax breaks, but their First Amendment rights have been limited, and that sends a message to any private individual or company that if you don’t do what the governor wants, you will be punished.”
Among the governor’s appointees is a donor who gave to Desanta company $50,000 in 2022 and supported the efforts of the governor of to dismiss the elected state prosecutor.
The governor also announced that he will appoint the director general of the Ministry of Law and the founder of the right-wing activist group Moms for Freedom, which the governor has supported to transform local school boards.
Ms. Escamani and opponents urged the governor instead to support legislation that would instead close corporate tax loopholes, “but it was never about tax policy or corporate reporting,” she added.
“It’s always been about DeSantis and his sick agenda targeting already marginalized people and silent dissent.”
Jeff Valle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, said in a statement that the company is “ready to work within this new framework and we will continue to innovate, inspire and bring joy to the millions of guests who come to Florida to visit Walt Disney World each year.”