Disney essentially used bribes to control special tax district abolished by DeSantis: report

Disney controlled local government around Walt Disney World with millions of dollars in gifts in the "most egregious exhibition of corporate cronyism in modern American history," according to a review by state officials.

Magic Kingdom Park, Orlando, Florida. (Unsplash)

(LifeSiteNews) — The special arrangement leftist entertainment giant Disney had for years with the state of Florida until Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis ended it was the “most egregious exhibition of corporate cronyism in modern American history,” according to a records review recently undertaken by state officials.

Disney, which for years has been infusing its mainstream children’s and family entertainment offerings with pro-LGBT messages and other left-wing themes, took a hardline stance in March 2022 against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, which bans schools from instructing children in kindergarten through third grade about transgenderism and other sexuality-related issues, limits discussions of sexuality for older children to “age appropriate” content, and requires parents to be informed of any changes that could affect their child’s physical, emotional, or mental well-being.

The ordeal backfired on the company, with the law passing (and later being expanded to all grade levels) despite Disney’s efforts, and DeSantis going on to abolish the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) through which the company effectively governed itself. The move ended Disney’s exemptions from the Florida Building Code and Florida Fire Prevention Code and from various state regulatory reviews and approvals, imposed new transparency requirements, ended its tax advantages, and made it liable for its own municipal debt.

Disney sued over the significant loss, but in September it agreed to drop four of its five legal claims concerning the validity of contracts that were voided by the new oversight board but made before DeSantis instituted it.

Now, the Daily Signal reports, the state is shedding light on what Disney was really fighting so hard to preserve via a new report from the DeSantis-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD). “Disney not just controlled the Reedy Creek Improvement District, but did so by effectively purchasing loyalty” and treating Reedy Creek employees effectively like Disney employees, the report says.

“Disney effectively bribed RCID employees (and retirees, members of the [RCID] Board of Supervisors, and vendor VIPs) by showering them with company benefits and perks: millions of dollars’ worth of annual passes to theme parks worldwide, 40% discounts on cruises, free transferable single-use tickets during the holiday season, steep discounts on merchandise, marked discounts on food and beverage, and access to non-public shopping reserved for Disney cast members (where merchandise was greatly discounted and items were made available that were otherwise not available for public purchase),” the report says.

“It is reasonable to conclude that RCID employees considered themselves to have a special relationship (and special obligations) to Disney more akin to an employee/employer relationship than a government official/constituent relationship,” the report continues. “Employees who knew that the RCID paid for the complimentary tickets were still receiving a benefit not available to the general public, which is of significant ethical concern for government employees obligated to serve the public rather than a private corporation.”

In 2021, for example, RCID spent a total of $1.5 million on Disney tickets for its employees, and $2.51 million on tickets that employees could gift to others. However, in a sign that RCID officials recognized the expenditures were not aboveboard, they were described as “financial and other administrative services” in financial reports, under the category of “Transactions with Principal Landowners.”

“The foregoing benefits cultivated the view among RCID employees that they were a valued part of the Disney corporation — indeed, that they were the ‘Magic Behind the Magic,’ a popular RCID catchphrase,” according to the report, which “creates a perception that the RCID was not neutral when Disney’s interests happened to conflict with the interests of other RCID residents, taxpayers, non-Disney guests, surrounding municipalities, the state of Florida, or members of the public generally.”

DeSantis’s stand against Disney, which has been criticized by current and former Republican presidential competitors Mike PenceNikki Haley, and Donald Trump, is part of the governor and 2024 presidential candidate’s broader work to counter “woke” activism from American corporations, and more generally make Florida the place “where woke goes to die.”


Calvin Freiburger
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