DeSantis Board Spent Hundreds of Thousands of Taxpayer Dollars To Accuse Disney of Mishandling Money

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Mickey Mouse and DeSantis with cascading dollar bills

Credit: Disney/CBS, edited by ITM

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board of Supervisors recently released a polarizing 80-page report that claimed that the former Disney-controlled Reedy Creek Improvement District was “the most egregious exhibition of corporate cronyism in modern American history.” It turns out that the price tag for the report was budgeted at $360,000 worth of taxpayer money, an objectively huge price for Governor Ron DeSantis and his campaign against the Walt Disney Company.

Ron DeSantis in front of Disney World Cinderella Castle with the CFTOD logo
Credit: DeSantis/CFTOD/Disney, edited by ITM

Related: DeSantis Board Has New Evidence Disney Mismanaged Taxpayer District

The Orlando Sentinel reports that the CFTOD board hired a number of outside experts and consultants to compile the report, labeling it as “legislative reporting” and assigning a budget of $360,000. As of publishing, the CFTOD has not released an official cost of the audit.

The report on the former Reedy Creek Improvement District, the area where the Walt Disney World Resort is located in Central Florida, claimed that Disney had de facto “bribed” officials for decades and was in desperate need of further government control. To quote the report directly:

“For years, the company treated district employees like Disney employees by, for instance, providing complimentary annual passes and steep discounts — benefits and perks that were akin to bribes.”

Unsurprisingly, the Walt Disney Company was quick to rebut the report, issuing a statement saying:

“This report is an exercise in revisionist history. It is neither objective nor credible, and only seeks to advance CFTOD’s interests in its wasteful litigation that could derail investment within the district. Further, it does not change the fact that the CFTOD board was appointed by the governor to punish Disney for exercising its Constitutional right to free speech.”

Regardless of the findings of the report and the intentions of the DeSantis board of supervisors toward Disney, it appears that commissioning the report cost an eyebrow-raising amount of money.

Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort
Credit: Cesira Alvarado via Unsplash

Reportedly, $110,000 of that budget went to George Mason University Professor Donald J. Kochan, who contributed to the report along with work by Williams Jennings of Delta Consulting Group, engineering firm Kimley-Horn, Public Resources Advisory Group, and consulting firm Raftelis.

Inside the Magic reached out to Professor Kochan regarding his work on the report but has not heard back by the time of publishing.

Notably, much of the data for the report was taken from the non-fiction book Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando (2001) by retired Rollins College professor Richard Foglesong, who was credited for his work but did not contribute to the CFTOD audit.

Governor DeSantis looking at Disney World Castle; The end of Disney in Florida?
Credit: Inside the Magic

A summary of the book reads in part (per Yale University Press), “In a balanced and thorough analysis of the Disney-Orlando story, Foglesong offers a critical account of how Disney has used – and also abused – its governmental immunities from the beginning of Disney World to the present under chairman Michael Eisner. Orlando’s experience with its biggest local employer raises broad questions about urban development policy.”

Inside the Magic reached out to Professor Foglesong to ask if he felt that the CFTOD report represented the situation fairly and if his research was used appropriately. Foglesong said:

“Essentially all of the factual information in the report comes from my book MTTM, information that required a multitude of interviews and hard-won access to the Disney archives in Burbank. That said, [Kochan] footnoted me appropriately in his report. The question is, why was the out of town guy chosen for this $110,000 assignment. My answer: DeSantis cronyism.”

In regards to the CFTOD’s handling of the former Reedy Creek, Foglesong continued:

“In my opinion, they have yet to touch the essential. Disney should not have the exemptions from things like impact fees and affordable housing requirement they currently have. Everything else is extraneous and DeSantis-related.”

Related: DeSantis Takes Disney to Court This Week Over First Amendment Lawsuit

While we do not currently have precise numbers for the cost of the CFTOD audit of Disney and the former Reedy Creek, it is clear that its “legislative reporting” price was in the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. Interestingly, the CFTOD tentative budget does not appear to have any entry for “legislative reporting,” suggesting this particular financial allocation might have been specific to the report.

Disney World Castle and Ron DeSantis
Credit: Inside the Magic

Ironically, given that this report was funded by taxpayer dollars, Disney essentially paid for an audit accusing it of bribery. Disney is the largest landowner in the CFTOD (not to mention Walt Disney World being the largest single-site employer in Central Florida) and is responsible for an estimated 86% of tax revenue for the area. It seems that at least a few hundred thousand dollars of that went to this highly critical report.

Inside the Magic reached out to the CFTOD board of supervisors for a statement regarding the price tag of the report, but has not heard back by the time of publishing.

Do you think this was a reasonable use of taxpayer dollars? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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