TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Weeks before The Walt Disney Co. took a stand against Florida’s contentious “Parental Rights in Education” law — which has been called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its critics — the theme park operator and entertainment conglomerate donated $190,000 to support Florida Republicans.
The company gave $125,000 to the Republican Party of Florida and $65,000 to a committee that helps elect GOP state senators, led by incoming state Senate President Kathleen Passidomo. All the donations, which were disclosed in new campaign filings Monday, arrived as the state legislative session was getting underway in January.
Disney also donated $25,000 to a leadership fund led by Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book on the day before the start of the session.
Disney last month announced it would pause making campaign donations in Florida amid a backlash over its jumbled response to the legislation, which bans instruction of gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade or in a manner that is not “age appropriate” in other grades.
The company also said it hoped that the law — which opponents, including President Joe Biden, maintain could further marginalize some students and lead to bullying and even suicide — was repealed or struck down by the courts. A federal lawsuit has already been filed by a group of LGBTQ advocates.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the bill into law last month, has railed at Disney over its opposition to the measure and said he is receptive to growing calls among GOP legislators to review special privileges that have been granted to the company over the decades. Disney is allowed to operate as its own local government under a law that was passed back in the 1960s as the company was preparing to build its massive theme park near Orlando.
A handful of GOP legislators have announced they would return checks they received to their reelection campaign accounts. Records show three legislators — including Rep. Joe Harding (R-Williston), the sponsor of the bill at the center of the controversy — returned more than $8,000 to Disney companies.
A Disney representative and the executive director of the Republican Party of Florida did not respond to requests for comment. The party chair is state Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota).
The donations from Disney were part of nearly $1.8 million raised during the first three months of the year by the Republican Party of Florida. The Florida Democratic Party raised $2.57 million during the same period. By contrast, DeSantis has raised at least $25 million since January. His main reelection account has still not posted its report for March.
Both parties usually raise a large amount of money in the run-up to the annual session that began Jan. 11. Legislators are not allowed to solicit donations during that two-month period.
The records show Disney gave a $100,000 check to the Republican Party of Florida on Jan. 11 and $25,000 more on Jan. 26. That second check came six days after the “Parental Rights in Education” bill had cleared its first legislative stop in the Florida House.
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