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Mouse trap: Disney expected to pull support from Republicans


Disney usually gives millions of dollars to Republicans. Will that happen this fall?

Indications of whether Florida Republicans’ snout smack of the Walt Disney Co. will make any immediate difference in their long-running symbiotic relationship should start showing up this month.

Or not showing up.

If Disney is mad at Florida Republicans, it could cost the GOP, its candidates, and its allied political committees more than $1 million in campaign donations that the entertainment company has typically donated to Florida Republicans in the closing months of election cycles.

For decades, Disney and its various subsidiaries and political committees have given millions of dollars in every election cycle to state Republicans and their allied political committees, while also giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to their Democratic counterparts.

Historically, Disney has done so in waves: during the winter months, and then again during late summer and the autumn. The company usually takes the spring and early summer off from donating money to campaigns and committees.

It was in the spring, during the annual Disney donations lull, that Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican lawmakers slapped Disney’s snout after the corporation expressed opposition to Republicans’ priority culture war legislation, the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill (HB 1557). DeSantis had signed that bill as Democrats and other opponents labeled it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

California-based Walt Disney Co., which operates Florida’s largest single-site employer, Walt Disney World, concurred with Democrats. And after courting anger from both sides of the aisle, Disney announced a decision to pause political donations indefinitely.

In a move even some of his allies labeled as retribution, DeSantis called a Special Session in April and got the Legislature to approve SB 4C, dissolving Walt Disney World’s special government, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a move that would eliminate many government advantages for the company. The sanction would go into effect next June, if Disney and Florida’s government don’t make nice by then.

The refrain from many Republicans critical of Disney’s rhetoric is that the company should stay out of politics. Yet Disney’s politics have almost always benefited Republicans, to the tune of millions of dollars in campaign money.

In the 2016 election cycle, Disney and its subsidiaries and political committees wrote 958 checks totaling $4.6 million in donations to candidates’ campaigns, parties and various political committees. That doesn’t include hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of freebie theme park tickets and other goods and services provided as in-kind donations to candidates, parties and committees.

For the 2018 cycle, Disney wrote 845 checks totaling $6.8 million, not including another $20 million Disney put up to oppose a constitutional amendment that year.

In 2020, Disney wrote 553 checks for $4.3 million.

Through March of this year, Disney had written 310 checks, worth $1.9 million in contributions. About $1.3 million of that went to Republicans and their allied committees. About $200,000 went to Democrats. The rest went to political committees with no clear partisan commitments. The spread is typical of other recent cycles.

Now it’s August, the time when Disney has biennially begun ushering its final round of cash contributions to campaigns and committees during previous election cycles. But it’s unclear if the company is ready to reverse its decision to suspend donations, or who will benefit once Disney does pony up once again.

The coming months will show whether Disney will counterpunch, or if its longer-term political needs are seen as best met by continuing to support Florida Republicans.

In the 2020 election cycle, Disney cut about $2 million in checks after Aug. 1, a little less than half of the total it contributed during the entire two-year cycle.

So far for the 2022 election cycle, Disney’s biggest single beneficiary has been the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which collected $400,000. The Republican Party of Florida got $255,000.

Disney has given the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee $85,000 this cycle, and the Florida Democratic Party, $25,000.

Before the battles with HB 1557 and SB 4C this election cycle, Disney had given $50,000 to Friends of Ron DeSantis, and $3,000 to the now-aborted gubernatorial campaign of Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo, but no money to the gubernatorial campaigns of Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist or Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30-plus years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.