February 21, 2024

Disney sues Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, saying political efforts hurt business interests

walt disney company Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was sued on Wednesday, accusing Republicans of waging a “relentless campaign against the company to shift government power to Weaponized”.

The federal lawsuit alleges that DeSantis “orchestrated at every step” a campaign to punish Disney that now threatens the company’s business.

The move dramatically intensifies the long-running feud between DeSantis and Disney, who is expected to be the top Republican contender in the 2024 presidential race. Disney is one of Florida’s largest employers.

The fight began last year when Disney opposed a Florida bill that limited classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity, which critics dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.”Soon after, the governor and his allies targeted Since the 1960s, the special tax district has allowed Disney to largely govern its operations in Florida.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks to a crowd at North Charleston Coliseum in North Charleston, South Carolina, April 19, 2023.

Sean Rayford | Getty Images

The lawsuit was filed on the same day that the regional board of supervisors that DeSantis chose to control Disney’s Orlando regional parks reversed a development agreement it said Disney made to thwart its power.

The panel voted unanimously to declare “void and unenforceable” the development agreement, which was approved shortly before DeSantis replaced Disney’s board of directors with an executive of his liking.

The lawsuit calls the action “the latest strike,” saying the development contract “sets the stage for billions of dollars in investments and thousands of jobs for Disney.” The company noted that it plans to invest $17 billion in Walt Disney World over the next decade, creating an estimated 13,000 new jobs on top of the existing more than 75,000 “actors.”

“The government’s actions were clearly retaliatory, clearly anti-business, and clearly unconstitutional,” Disney said in the civil suit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, Florida.

Disney asked the court to rule that the board’s legislative steps were illegal and unenforceable.

In response, DeSantis’ office said the fight hinged on Disney’s special tax and governance privileges, not political retaliation.

Taryn Fenske, DeSantis’ director of communications, said in a statement to CNBC: “We are not aware of any legal right for the corporation to run its own government or maintain a privilege that no other business in the state has. “

“This lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of their desire to undermine the will of Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law,” Fenske said.

However, Disney’s lawsuit argues, “This is the most obvious case of retaliation that this court is likely to see.”

“There was no room for disagreement about what happened here: Disney voiced its opinion on state legislation and was then punished by the state,” the lawsuit says.

Disney’s lawyers noted that until a year ago, DeSantis and his allies had no objection to the self-governing structure, formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Disney World celebrates its 50th anniversary in April 2022.

Aaron | Ball Griffin | GC Image | Getty Images

Created in 1967, the entity gives Disney regulatory control over public services and other functions within the 25,000-acre area that includes its Florida parks and resorts. In addition to local tax obligations, Disney also collects millions of dollars in taxes through Reedy Creek each year to fund these services.

DeSantis signed legislation to eliminate the special designation weeks after Disney denounced the classroom act.

The move has raised concerns that taxpayers in two surrounding Florida counties could be saddled with huge tax bills. In February, the state legislature passed new legislation keeping the district intact but allowing DeSantis to appoint five of its board members.

March, Freshly picked The district’s board of directors — now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District — said their Disney-aligned predecessor stripped them of many of their powers when they left the gate.

“The bottom line is that Disney is doing the equivalent of Scrooge McDuck in trying to evade Florida law. Its efforts are illegal and they won’t stand up,” said the attorney who was identified as the board’s trial counsel. David Thompson said at a public meeting last year. Week.

On Wednesday, board chairman Martin Garcia said the new agency had tried to work with Disney, but the company had left them with “legal confusion.”

“Disney chose to fight this board,” Garcia said. He also said taxes would have to rise to pay for lawyers hired by the board to assess Disney’s “last-minute deal.”

“We’re going to have to raise taxes to pay for that,” he said.

The board also voted a resolution effectively barring future Covid-related restrictions at Disney’s Orlando-area parks.

Disney’s lawsuit comes as DeSantis is traveling overseas, further stoking expectations that the governor is gearing up for a presidential campaign.

DeSantis’ involvement in divisive cultural issues, including his battle with Disney, brought him national prominence. He handily won a second term as governor in November’s midterm elections and has been coming close to polling expectations for the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

But he has come under fierce attack from former President Donald Trump, who is currently the favorite for the Republican nomination. The governor’s decision to continue fighting Disney has recently drawn criticism from others in his party.

DeSantis is expected to delay the presidential announcement until Florida’s current legislative session concludes on May 5.

Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador who is now running for the Republican nomination for president, took a dig at her potential chief rival as she reacted to the lawsuit.

“If you want to leave Florida, my home state will gladly accept over 70,000 jobs from you,” Haley said tweets Wednesday afternoon at Disney.

South Carolina “didn’t wake up, but we didn’t have sanctimonious about it either,” she added — a blunt reference to DeSantis, whom Trump gave to Trump on the campaign trail. Nicknamed “Ron DeSantimonius”.

— CNBC’s Stephen Desaulniers contributed to this report.