Disney World Reenters Political Arena Ahead of 2024 Elections: Controversy Erupts

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Donald Trump smiling while looking at and angry Ron DeSantis with Mickey Mouse in the middle at Disney World.

Credit: Inside The Magic

After a two-year hiatus, Walt Disney World Resort has again begun giving money to Florida politicians thanks to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill controversy with Governor Ron DeSantis.

Gov. DeSantis Image on the left (Gage Skidmore credit) and Donald Trump on the right, Disney Castle in the middle
Credit: Inside the Magic

Florida Politicians and More To Resume Receiving Funding From Walt Disney World

According to the Orlando Sentinel, Disney’s Princess Tiana graces the invitations for Democratic state Sen. Geraldine Thompson’s upcoming fundraiser, signaling Disney’s reentry into Florida’s political scene. This development follows Disney’s provision of theme park tickets as an in-kind contribution, potentially marking the company’s first political donation in Florida in over two years. In March 2022, Disney halted all political contributions in the state amid backlash over the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools.

Then, CEO Bob Chapek opposed the bill after facing criticism from fans and the LGBTQ community for initially staying silent. As Sen. Thompson highlighted, Disney’s recent in-kind contributions include theme park tickets for her campaign. Before the pause, Disney contributed approximately $55 million to Republicans and Democrats over 28 years, with over $5 million donated in 2020 alone. Notably, Friends of Ron DeSantis, a political committee linked to the governor, received over $100,000 from Disney between 2019 and early 2022.

Chapek’s opposition to the bill sparked a conflict with Governor DeSantis, leading to the state’s takeover of the Disney-run district overseeing Walt Disney World and subsequent lawsuits. However, following a settlement in March and the reinstatement of Bob Iger as CEO, Disney appears poised to resume its political contributions in Florida. Sen. Thompson, whose district includes Walt Disney World, confirmed that Disney’s direct monetary contributions have not yet resumed. Still, the company provides in-kind support to her and at least one other unnamed state legislator.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks on a podium in front of the CFTOD building with Mickey Mouse with his hands over his mouth.
Image Credit: Inside The Magic

According to the fundraiser invitation, contributions of $250, $500, $700, and $1,000 will earn donors one, two, three, and four Disney park passes, respectively, and access to a dinner and fireworks display. The value of these park tickets ranges from $149 to $210.50 for Florida residents. In-kind contributions must be reported in campaign filings, with disclosures for the April-May period due by June 10, followed by bi-weekly filings until the election.

Thompson mentioned that any decision to resume cash donations would need approval from Disney’s headquarters in Burbank, California. Political science professor Aubrey Jewett from the University of Central Florida noted that Disney’s quiet reentry into political donations is a strategic move to avoid media attention. The Florida Democratic Party recently hosted its annual Leadership Blue event at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, where Disney previously donated $114,761 worth of accommodations and services in 2021. The Republican Party of Florida received nearly $142,000 in similar donations from Disney until early 2022. Current contributions from Disney to these parties remain unclear.

Disney’s reentry into political donations in Florida signals a potential resumption of contributions to Democratic and Republican parties, especially significant in an election year featuring major candidates like Donald Trump and Joe Biden. This move, exemplified by their recent in-kind contributions to Democratic state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, marks the first such support in over two years since Disney halted its political donations in the state amid controversy over Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Collage with the U.S. Capitol in the center flanked by illustrations of Mickey Mouse and photos of three politicians, including DeSantis, gesturing as if in discussion.
Credit: Inside The Magic

Disney’s renewed contributions could be particularly impactful as this year’s elections approach. Historically, such donations are pivotal in shaping the political landscape, providing resources for campaign activities, advertisements, and voter outreach efforts. The high stakes of an election featuring prominent candidates like Trump and Biden further underscore the significance of Disney’s involvement. Disney’s careful reentry into political contributions, starting with in-kind donations, suggests a strategic approach to rebuilding its political relationships without attracting controversy.

This strategy may pave the way for more substantial financial contributions as the election season progresses, supporting state and national candidates to influence policy outcomes favorable to Disney’s business operations. Disney’s resumed political donations in Florida indicate a likely return to supporting Democratic and Republican parties, particularly crucial in an election year with high-profile candidates. The high stakes of an election featuring prominent candidates like Trump and Biden further underscore the significance of Disney’s involvement.

The recent settlement between Disney and the state of Florida over governance issues related to Walt Disney World, coupled with the reinstatement of Bob Iger as CEO, suggests that Disney is positioning itself to regain its political influence. Iger’s leadership might steer the company back into its former role as a key player in Florida politics, potentially providing financial support to campaigns and candidates that align with Disney’s business interests and values. This move signals Disney’s intent to reestablish its political influence and highlights the broader impact such contributions can have on the electoral process and policy development.

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