Disney’s pause on Florida political donations may be over

Disney Princess Tiana appears on invitations to Democratic state Sen. Geraldine Thompson’s fundraiser next month, and with the photo comes the return of a major player in Florida politics.

The Walt Disney Company provided tickets to the theme park in what is known as an in-kind contribution, Thompson said. This may be the first contribution to a Florida politician in more than two years from the entertainment giant, which was once one of the largest donors to Democrats and Republicans alike.

Disney in March 2022 All political contributions in Florida are suspended In the wake of the controversy over the Parental Rights in Education Act, which some call the “Don’t Say Gay” law, it bans teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.

Then-CEO Bob Chapek stated his opposition to the bill after criticism from some fans and the LGBTQ+ community for not speaking out.

Before the pause, Disney gave about $55 million to Republicans, Democrats and state political committees over the past 28 years, including about $5 million in 2020 and more than $2 million in just the first two months of 2022, state records show. .

Friends of Ron DeSantis, a political committee linked to the governor, received more than $100,000 in 2019.

Chapek’s comment set off a battle between Disney and DeSantis that included a state takeover of the company-operated district that oversaw government services for Walt Disney World and competing lawsuits.

But with a settlement reached in March between the state and the company, now run again by CEO Bob Iger after Chapek’s ouster in late 2022, Disney appears ready to open its portfolio again in Florida.

“For a company the size of Disney to say they’re going to take a break and not donate is something you can understand,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. “But to stay permanently out of the influence business? That was hard to believe.”

Thompson, of Orlando, whose southwest Orange County district includes Walt Disney World, said direct political contributions from the company have not yet begun to return.

But she said Disney makes in-kind contributions, where the donor provides services, products or other benefits, to itself and to at least one other state lawmaker, which she did not name.

“Even though they can’t write checks, this is an opportunity for me to raise money for my campaign and with their great support,” she said. “But not in (cash) dollar amounts.”

Disney spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the invitation, a $250 Thompson contributor will get one Walt Disney World park ticket, while $500 will get two park tickets, $700 will get three, and $1,000 will get four. All donors receive access to the gala dinner and fireworks show at the end of the fundraiser on June 7.

Disney’s pause on Florida political donations may be over

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The cash value of Disney park tickets ranges from $149 to $210.50 for Florida residents on June 7, according to the company’s website.

In-kind contributions must be reported in campaign filings, but contributions for April-May do not need to be made through June 10. Contributions must then be made every two weeks until the election.

Asked if Disney would start making cash donations in Florida again soon, Thompson said she understood it would have to be approved by senior officials at the company’s California headquarters.

“They’re waiting to hear from Burbank,” Thompson said.

The return of under-the-radar contributions is “about what I would have expected,” Jewett said.

“Disney made a big splash when they said they would stop donations,” Jewett said. “For their return, it would make strategic sense for them to start doing things quietly and not pay too much attention to it. Disney may have decided they wanted to avoid being in the headlines regarding political matters.

It is unclear whether lawmakers, other candidates and state parties have begun receiving in-kind contributions from Disney.

The Florida Democratic Party held its annual Leadership Blue event earlier this month at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. In 2021, before the pause, Disney gave the party $114,761 worth of free room, food and drink, according to state records.

Asked if Disney had made any in-kind contributions this year, party spokeswoman Eden Giagnorio said they were “still reconciling expenses” for this period.

The Florida Republican Party received nearly $142,000 in in-kind donations for rooms, food and beverage from Disney from 2021 to early 2022, according to Politico. Evan Bauer, chairman of the state Republican Party, did not respond to a question about any current Disney in-kind spending.

©2024 Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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