Disney is preparing to take its fight with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his GOP allies in the state Legislature to the next level, according to people familiar with the matter.
With just weeks until the end of the Florida legislature, Disney is urging lobbyists to step up efforts to sway the Republican-controlled state legislature, including targeting land-use-related bills that could harm the company, it said the people who declined to be named so as to be able to speak freely about the issues.
A Disney spokesman declined to comment on the lobbying.
The battle between the entertainment giant and DeSantis began last year after Disney opposed what critics dubbed “don’t say gay” Florida law, which bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools from kindergarten through third grade .
Then, before DeSantis could strip the county where Disney is based of its self-governing status and replace the board that oversaw the area, A Disney-aligned body signed a long-term development agreement that drastically limits the governor’s control. DeSantis said state legislatures are drafting legislation to overturn this agreement.
Republican officials and business leaders have increasingly criticized DeSantis’ volleys against the company. Former President Donald Trump and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — two of Florida’s governor’s potential rivals in 2024 — and even former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein have pushed back on DeSantis over his struggle with the company.
Since DeSantis suggested on Monday that he wanted to develop land near Disney World, possibly by building a prison, Disney announced that “affordable and accessible housing” will open around the park in 2026.
Florida Republican Senator Blaise Ingoglia warned Disney not to fight back as he stood next to DeSantis at a news conference Monday.
“I have a few words for Disney. You will not win this fight. This governor will do it,” said Ingoglia. “One piece of advice for Disney going forward: let it go. Just let it go.”
At the same event, DeSantis vowed to reverse an agreement that would allow the Orlando amusement park to bypass a special county board staffed by DeSantis officials.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions during a news conference at Seminole State College in Sanford, Fla., Monday, May 16, 2022.
Joe Burbank | Orlando Sentinel | Getty Images
Shortly after DeSantis’ remarks to On Monday, Disney executives urged lobbyists to keep an eye on and aggressively crack down on any proposed legislation in Florida that could harm the company, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. According to DeSantis, there is a particular interest in fighting land use laws, said that person.
This person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about Disney’s plans, told CNBC that one of the land-related bills that Disney lobbyists are closely monitoring is CS/SB 1604: Land Use and Development Regulations. Ingoglia introduced the bill to the Senate and an identical measure was proposed in the House of Representatives.
Both chambers have introduced changes that could affect Disney. The measures would allow a “newly elected or appointed independent specialty governing body,” such as the DeSantis-appointed Disney District governing body, to review all development agreements and have the opportunity to vote on whether that district will re-accept the original development contract.
Both amendments were filed on Tuesday, the day after DeSantis’ press conference where he hammered Disney, according to the state Legislature website.
Disney and CEO Bob Iger don’t appear to be taking the latest moves by DeSantis and his allies lightly.
Friends of Iger say the Disney CEO may be hoping that renewed lobbying against DeSantis and allies, along with critical public perception of the governor’s actions, could dissuade enough Republican officials from siding with the governor. DeSantis effectively controls the state legislature with a GOP supermajority.
“It’s almost like every time DeSantis says these crazy things, DeSantis gets ahead of Bob,” a longtime Iger ally told CNBC. “He feels like Disney is ready for battle, but I think he’s kinda watching the governor try to float his own boat on this one.”
A Disney spokesperson told CNBC that this perception of Iger was “inaccurate.”
Bob Iger, CEO, Disney, during a CNBC interview, February 9, 2023.
Randy Shropshire | CNBC
DeSantis’ potential competitors in a presidential primary have pounced on the controversy to keep it from the Florida governor. Trump, who is running for president, and Christie, another potential 2024 candidate, have both torn DeSantis for his war with Disney.
“Disney’s next step will be to announce that they are no longer investing in Florida because of the governor — they might even announce a slow retreat or sale of certain properties or the whole thing,” Trump said in a Truth Social. post a response to DeSantis’ recent fight with the company, without citing any evidence that the company could take those steps.
Early GOP primary polls show DeSantis as the second-best candidate behind Trump. The ex-president had a massive lead in most recent polls.
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The Disney feud could also cost DeSantis donors. Some Republican mega-donors who were once firmly in DeSantis’ corner for the 2024 GOP have recently called the governor’s allies to say they may not help him run for president, according to a longtime DeSantis ally . Instead, they said they could support another possible nominee in Sen. Tim Scott, RS.C., that person said.
However, there may be a way out of the protracted struggle. Prior to DeSantis’ final attack, Iger had indicated to Time that he was ready to make amends with the governor.
“I don’t see this as a situation where we get on the mattresses. Of course, if the governor of Florida wants to meet with me to discuss all of this, I’d be happy to do so,” he said.
Iger also publicly ripped DeSantis’ treatment of Disney.