Disney is once again giving money to anti-LGBTQ+ Republicans who passed the "Don't Say Gay" law

Disney is once again donating to Republican lawmakers who had attacked it for being a "woke corporation"

Published June 13, 2024 2:28PM (EDT)

General views of the Walt Disney 'Partners' statue at Magic Kingdom, celebrating its 50th anniversary on April 03, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/Getty Images)
General views of the Walt Disney 'Partners' statue at Magic Kingdom, celebrating its 50th anniversary on April 03, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/Getty Images)

The Walt Disney Corporation, which runs a theme park fiefdom in Orlando and wields outsized clout in Florida politics, is once again donating money to state politicians after a two-year hiatus following the fallout over "Don't Say Gay" legislation.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the recipients include Republicans who supported the law that banned discussions about LGBTQ+ issues in public schools through third grade, even though the company, under pressure from its employees, previously opposed the measure, officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill.

Disney has now shelled out $87,000 in political donations, according to the most recent campaign filings, most of the money going to political committees connected with state lawmakers, including state Rep. Josie Tomkow, state Sen. Jason Brodeur and state Sen. Joe Gruters, all Republicans who voted for the "Don't Say Gay" legislation.

Disney did not respond to a request for comment.

Despite allegations from the right that it has aggressively promoted liberal causes, Disney did not initially take a public position on the "Don't Say Gay" law, sparking protests from its employees, who urged the company to use its political influence to protect LGBTQ+ workers and their families. In response, then-CEO Bob Chapek called the bill a "challenge to basic human rights," apologized to the employees for not taking action sooner and, beginning in March 2022, suspended Disney's political contributions.

Disney, until then one of the largest political contributors in Florida (giving $55 million over the past 28 years), also vowed to push for the law's repeal, provoking GOP lawmakers and Governor Ron DeSantis to deride it as a "woke corporation," hit back at the company with a law that stripped Disney of its special tax-exempt status, and even pass other measures to punish Disney employees.

Disney sued Florida, arguing that the state was infringing on its First Amendment rights. But the two sides eventually came to a settlement, opening up another round of negotiations over the development agreement between the company and a board appointed by DeSantis to oversee the Disney-run district that encompasses Walt Disney World. Disney, for its part, agreed to drop its two state lawsuits and put the brakes on a federal lawsuit.

Since then, Disney and DeSantis have enjoyed a détente of sorts, with DeSantis cooling his anti-Disney rhetoric and even floating a fifth Disney theme park in Florida. He also appointed his former legislative director, Stephanie Kopelousos, to lead the newly constituted Disney World’s Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD), a move apparently designed to appease the company. Kopelousos previously helped insert an exemption for Disney into a 2021 bill pushed by DeSantis to crack down on Big Tech companies, although the exemption was later pulled after the Disney-DeSantis feud broke out.

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Disney, which is anticipating a major, $60 billion expansion in its theme park operations in Florida and across the globe, reached an agreement with DeSantis on Wednesday night, which allows the company to invest $17 billion in planned development at Walt Disney World without interference for the next 15 years.

Moreover, Disney counts on the support of the state to maintain a privileged status that exempts them from a host of taxes, regulations and fees, and allows it to exercise the powers of an autonomous government, including the issuance of bonds and oversight of its own firefighters. Those, of course, are all on the table of ongoing negotiations over the development agreement.

Even before the donations were revealed, the company's potential reversal was previewed in a shareholder meeting in which a proposal to require the company to be more transparent about its donations was voted down. The vote was met with backlash from some shareholders, who feared that Disney might once again give money to Florida Republicans.

“We believe it’s time for Disney to provide accountability to shareholders that it is spending its political dollars wisely and in alignment with its core principles and interests,” Laura Nixon, an official from the Educational Foundation of America, a shareholder group that funds progressive causes, told Florida Politics. “In recent years, Disney contributed over $100,000 to an administration that took aim at Disney’s employees, mocked the company’s values at a national level and then punished Disney by diminishing its tax breaks and degree of self-governance.”

By Nicholas Liu

Nicholas (Nick) Liu is a News Fellow at Salon. He grew up in Hong Kong, earned a B.A. in History at the University of Chicago, and began writing for local publications like the Santa Barbara Independent and Straus News Manhattan.

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