Prominent Republicans who have criticized Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ actions against The Walt Disney Company have received significant donations from the media giant’s executives, according to campaign finance records published by the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
DeSantis and Disney have been at odds since early 2022, when the Florida legislature passed a law signed by DeSantis stripping Disney of municipal powers within its special district after Disney criticized Florida’s Parental Rights In Education Law. Recently, several top Republicans have come out opposing the governor’s feud with the company, arguing that it’s bad for business, at a time when DeSantis is widely expected to run for president in 2024; however, many of these Republicans raked in campaign contributions from Disney executives.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who recently suggested that DeSantis’s actions were “problematic,” has received $20,500 since 2016 from Disney, of which $11,000 was donated to his most recent election campaign, according to FEC data. The money was formally donated by The Walt Disney Company Employees PAC, a political action committee run by Disney’s top executives that was organized in 1993 by then-CEO Michael D. Eisner.
A PAC officially affiliated with Rubio, known as the “Reclaim America PAC,” has received $35,000 since 2011, with the funds being used to support his re-election campaigns and donate to other candidates, per FEC data.
Hear @SenMarcoRubio on the legal battle between @RonDeSantisFL and @Disney. https://t.co/sAI075rZz6
— Arjun Singh (@arjunswritings) April 28, 2023
Rubio questioned “the idea that somehow if you run crossways with us politically, whoever’s in charge, then you may wind up in the crosshairs of the legislature for political purposes to make a statement at you,” when asked about DeSantis’ battle with Disney in a recent interview with Fox News.
Responding to a request for comment, Rubio’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Dan Holler, criticized “false headlines” in conservative media and pointed to other commentaries by Rubio in the press, per an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The fundamental question here is if what we’re trying to fix is the fact that Disney had some arrangement that gave them governmental-type powers,” Holler wrote, quoting Rubio’s remarks.
Similar to Rubio’s comments, Florida’s other senator, Republican Rick Scott, who is DeSantis’ immediate predecessor as Governor of Florida, also criticized DeSantis’ position against Disney, calling for “cooler heads to prevail” and that both parties should “start working together,” in comments reported by the Associated Press.
During his tenure as Governor, Scott’s super PAC, Let’s Get to Work, received $252,503.34 in 2015 from the Walt Disney Parks & Resorts in support of his re-election campaign, per a report from the Orlando Sentinel. Disney also sent a donation of $730,000 to the Florida GOP in 2014, which spent heavily on Scott’s campaign, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
FEC records reveal that Disney’s PAC has donated $2,000 to Scott since he became a senator.
Moreover, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Thursday that DeSantis should “sit down and negotiate” with the company, rather than pursue legislative action against them. McCarthy has also been the recipient of Disney PAC funds, with the McCarthy Victory Fund, a joint fundraising group with Congressional Republicans, receiving $47,500 since 2015, per the FEC.
Individually, McCarthy also received contributions from top Disney executives, such as Bill Bailey, Disney’s Senior Vice President of Government Relations in Washington, D.C; former Chairman and CEO Bob Chapek, Kevin Lansberry, the Chief Financial Officer of Disney Parks; and Jeff Vahale, the President of Walt Disney World resort, which has been the focus of DeSantis’s ire.
“This is a big employer inside Florida…I think the governor should sit down with them. I don’t think the idea of building a prison next to a place where you bring your family is the best idea. I think it’d be much better if you sat down and solved the problems,” McCarthy said on CNBC’s Squawk Box Thursday, referring to a joke DeSantis made about building a state prison next to Disney World.
Rubio and McCarthy’s comments have been echoed by another top Congressional Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, who is running for president again in 2024 and has criticized DeSantis’ actions against Disney in anticipation of his primary challenge. Graham, who said that he “understood [Disney] pushing back” against Florida’s GOP-backed legislation to crack down on the company, has received $14,000 from Disney‘s PAC over his Senatorial career, per FEC data.
“Development is good, jobs are good. I’m always on the side of making sure that people who want to invest in my state feel welcome,” Graham told Newsweek.
When contacted for a comment, Graham’s spokesperson Kevin Bishop brushed off the sum. “$14,000 over 13 years. In his last race in 2020 Senator Graham raised $109 million,” he said.
DeSantis’ feud with Disney began after the company publicly criticized his signing of the Parental Rights in Education law, which barred the teaching of gender and sexuality concepts below the third grade in Florida schools and permitted parents to sue schools for objectionable content.
Democrats have strongly criticized DeSantis for the measure, terming it the “Don’t Say Gay” law, and Disney recently sued DeSantis for actions related to his efforts to abolish its special district.
DeSantis, McCarthy, Scott and The Walt Disney Company have been contacted for a comment.
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