Before Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” measure became a wedge between Disney and conservatives, the house of the mouse donated significant cheddar to the Florida GOP.
The Walt Disney Company in January sent the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) two donations totaling $125,000 during the first weeks of this year’s Legislative Session. The contributions came before the entertainment giant announced a moratorium on political donations in the Sunshine State over Florida Republicans’ support for legislation targeting classroom discussions about LGBTQ topics.
Disney submitted its first contribution on Jan. 11, mere days after Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley filed his version of the bill (SB 1834) and the same day Williston Republican Rep. Joe Harding filed his version (HB 1557), which ultimately became law. However, by the time Disney sent an additional $25,000 to RPOF on Jan. 26, critics like Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith had started calling the legislation the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, ramping up criticism of the measure.
The donations, which the RPOF disclosed Monday, were first reported by Jason Garcia as well as POLITICO.
Last month, the parental rights proposal became a public flashpoint for Disney as the company faced internal pressure to oppose the measure. By mid-March, CEO Bob Chapek announced Disney would cease all political donations in Florida and support activists fighting similar legislation in other states, an about-face from what he said was the company’s initial decision to combat the bill in private.
Disney’s dispute with Florida has grown into a nationwide debate, with some conservatives calling on others to boycott Disney’s parks, movies and more. Since the company announced it would halt contributions in the Sunshine State, Harding and other lawmakers have returned their donations from Disney.
RPOF Chair Joe Gruters, a Republican Senator from Sarasota, did not immediately return a request for comment on whether the party would return the contributions from Disney.
Disney also donated $25,000 to the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign, led by Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book. The committee is intended to elect Democrats to the Florida Senate.
But Disney’s contributions to RPOF accounted for more than half of the company’s donations in Florida from January to March. In that period, Disney donated upward of $226,000 before three lawmakers returned more than $8,000 in donations.
The Parental Rights in Education legislation will prevent instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity between kindergarten and third grade. It will limit instruction about those topics in later grade levels to age-appropriate discussions. Additionally, it will allow a parent to sue school districts if he or she believes school instruction broke the law.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republicans have suggested lawmakers will consider ending “special privileges” for Disney, which has long been a player in state and local politics. North Fort Myers Republican Rep. Spencer Roach tweeted late last month that lawmakers had met twice recently on repealing the law that created municipal-like governments, effectively run by Disney, to regulate the land where Walt Disney World operates.
Barring a court intervention, the legislation will take effect July 1, before the start of the new school year.
This article first appeared at Florida Politics.