Report: DeSantis Used State Pensions To Rescue Disney CEO Bob Iger

in Disney, Walt Disney World

A collage of Bob Iger and Ron DeSantis together

Credit: Inside the Magic

Governor Ron DeSantis has been at odds with the Walt Disney Company for months, but it turns out that behind the scenes, he bailed out CEO Bob Iger using the power of the Florida state pension fund.

Ron DeSantis with fireworks at Walt Disney World
Credit: Inside the Magic

DeSantis and Disney Working Together?

For decades, the relationship between the state of Florida and the Walt Disney Company was tight, with critics even questioning whether the legislature and the iconic media corporation were a little too intertwined. Of course, when you own Walt Disney World, the planet’s most popular theme park and the state’s largest single-site employer, keeping things friendly is in everyone’s best interest.

That all changed with former Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who was already struggling to lead the company during the unprecedented chaos of COVID-19 and escalating culture wars, publicly took a stance against the “Don’t Say Gay” law, formally known as the Parental Rights in Education Act (PREA). The controversial bill was one of DeSantis’ signature policies and a huge part of his public persona while launching his now-failed presidential campaign, and it appears the governor took Disney’s criticism personally.

Angry Ron DeSantis over Walt Disney World
Credit: Inside the Magic

The Mouse’s anti-PREA stance kicked off an avalanche of lawsuits between DeSantis and Disney. The most prominent of which was a Federal case (Disney v. DeSantis) in which the company argued that the governor had dissolved the Reedy Creek Improvement District (now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District) in political retaliation, thereby abusing his executive authority and violating its constitutional rights to free speech.

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor disagreed, dismissing the suit with a statement reading, “Disney does not possess the legal standing to bring a lawsuit against the Governor or the Secretary. Furthermore, its allegations against the CFTOD Defendants lack merit, as ‘when a statute is facially constitutional, a plaintiff cannot bring a free-speech challenge by claiming that the lawmakers who passed it acted with a constitutionally impermissible purpose.’”

Related: Governor DeSantis Signs $2.5 Billion Disney World Highway Bill Into Law

Ron DeSantis with the Walt and Mickey statue at Disney World
Credit: Edited by Inside the Magic

That wasn’t the end of things, as Disney immediately appealed the case to the 11th Circuit and recently was granted an extension for “negotiations.” DeSantis and his CFTOD board of supervisors have signed a tentative settlement with Disney that has apparently calmed things down, but the lawsuit still remains in play.

But that just makes it more of a surprise that DeSantis seems to have been supporting the current Disney board of directors, including CEO Bob Iger, during a dramatic battle for control of the company. What’s more, he used the significant resources of the state pension plan to do so.

The Florida State Board of Administration Votes

Disney CEO Bob Iger recently faced a serious threat to his leadership of the company, as Trian Fund Management billionaire activist Nelson Peltz and former Disney CFO Jay Rasulo attempted to seize seats on the board of directors. It was Peltz’s second attempt to effectively take over the decision-making arm of Disney in just over a year, and was defeated in a show of support for Iger and his direction of the company, though it was far from a sure thing all the way up until the actual vote.

But while Bob Iger had the support of famous names like Star Wars creator George Lucas and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, it turns out that he also had DeSantis backing him via the Florida State Board of Administration (FSBA). Though that name might not have the cache of Lucasfilm or the world’s biggest bank, it was a key shareholder vote to bail out Iger.

Bob Iger standing by a stone archway with a view of a fairytale castle in the distance.
Credit: Inside the Magic

The reason for that? Florida state employee pension funds, which are heavily invested in Disney stock and thus gave it a significant voice in the proxy vote. According to the FSBA voting disclosure, it voted in favor of Bob Iger and 10 out of 12 of the current board members. It withheld its vote from Maria Elena Lagomasino and Derica W. Rice, incumbent members of the board, citing various conflicts, but even more crucially, withheld votes from Nelson Peltz, Jay Rasulo, and Jessica Schell, Craig Hatkoff, and Leah Solivan from Blackwells Capital.

Although Governor DeSantis has not made a public statement about the FSBA votes to bail out Bob Iger, it is impossible that he did not approve of them. The politician is one of three trustees of the FSBA, along with Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, who are empowered with ultimate authority over the organization and its funds. DeSantis had to be aware that he was throwing the weight of Florida state funds behind Disney.

Bob Iger with Iron Man and the Mandalorian
Credit: Inside the Magic

Related: Ron Desantis Teams up With Florida to Tackle Disney World Price Hikes

And those funds are significant. Per the FSBA website, “The Florida Retirement System (FRS) Pension Plan, also known as the Defined Benefit Plan, is one of the largest public retirement plans in the U.S. and comprises roughly three-quarters of total assets under State Board of Administration (SBA) management.”

To be even more specific, the Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) breaks down its assets as:

The State Board of Administration (SBA) is primarily an asset management organization responsible for investing state and local government assets. Established by the state’s constitution, its mission is to provide superior investment and trust services while adhering to the highest ethical, fiduciary, and professional standards.

As of June 30, 2022, the board had $228.0 billion under management; the largest fund under supervision is the Florida Retirement System (FRS) Pension Plan Fund ($180.0 million). Other major funds include the FRS Investment Plan Fund ($12.8 million), the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund ($12.4 million), and the Local Government Surplus Funds (Florida PRIME) Trust Fund ($17.7 million).

In 2023, SEC filings showed that the Florida Pension Plan (under the direction of Ron DeSantis) held nearly 2 million shares of Disney stock, giving it a huge advantage in a proxy battle.

DeSantis may still be taking shots at Disney in public and claiming that there was never any chance he would lose a lawsuit, but it turns out he’s been working behind the scenes to bail them out the whole time.

Do you think DeSantis and Disney have been working together despite the lawsuits? Tell Inside the Magic your thoughts in the comments below!

Be the first to comment!