Six days after pro-Trump rioters violently forced their way into the U.S. Capitol, the Walt Disney Company announced it would suspend all political contributions to lawmakers who voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s election.
Despite this recent action, campaign finance data shows the entertainment conglomerate has no qualms about supporting lawmakers who embrace racist vote suppression tactics and undermine democracy.
Public Citizen’s analysis of campaign finance data from the National Institute on Money in Politics found:
- Disney backed 96% of the Republican lawmakers in Florida who, in a pair of party-line votes, passed legislation to sabotage a popular voting rights ballot initiative that restored former felons’ voting rights. In other words, only four of the 90 lawmakers who voted for the bill to weaken Amendment 4 did not receive contributions from Disney between 2016 and 2020.
- The corporation contributed over $800,000 to the 86 lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis between 2016 and 2020, almost exclusively in the form of direct corporate expenditures. Less than 1% of the Florida contributions came from Disney’s employee PAC, which contributed $2,500 toward DeSantis’s 2016 campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. (See the table below for the full recipient list.)
- This disgraceful vote did not discourage Disney’s spending. Over $200,000 of the $800,000 was given to 59 of the Florida legislators in 2020 – after they sabotaged the voting rights ballot initiative.
This analysis demonstrates that Disney’s aggressive political spending at the state level results in harmful policy outcomes that directly contrast with its publicly-stated values.
To be clear, Disney’s spending is not limited to these Republicans. In fact, Disney contributed to candidates in every single race in all 40 Florida Senate districts and all 120 Florida House districts, including 50 Democratic Florida legislators who opposed the bill and received $439,000 from Disney between 2016 and 2020. Nevertheless, the spending means Disney bears some responsibility for the actions the candidates they help elect take once they assume their respective offices.
What should Disney do to avoid responsibility for the heinous actions of politicians they help elect? The answer is simple: Disney should cease political spending entirely, as Public Citizen has urged all of Corporate America in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Additionally, the spending highlighted here solely consists of what Disney discloses to the public and shareholders. The true amount Disney contributes to groups that do not disclose contributors remains unknown. On March 9, Disney faces a resolution from shareholders asking for transparency around payments the company makes to 501(c)4s organizations that can engage in politics and lobbying. Short of ceasing spending entirely, Disney should take the incremental step of supporting this request for more transparency from its shareholders.
Background on Amendment 4
During the 2018 midterm elections, Floridians voted by 64% in favor of Amendment 4, a ballot initiative that was expected to restore voting rights to 1.4 million former felons, an historic expansion of civil rights and a racial justice victory. Black Floridians, who make up 13% of Florida’s population, made up 44% of the formerly incarcerated individuals who took advantage of their new re-enfranchisement rights in the months following the amendment’s passage.
In 2019, Florida’s Republican lawmakers passed, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law, a bill to undermine the initiative by requiring former felons to pay all fines and court fees before their right to vote can be restored. The law constituted a double attack on democracy, both thwarting the will of Florida voters who overwhelmingly supported the initiative and blocking former felons from re-enfranchisement. Just as the amendment disproportionately benefited Black Floridians, so too did the bill disproportionately harm them.
As a result of the Florida Republicans’ act of legislative sabotage, by October 2020, only about 31,400 new voters had joined the rolls – a minuscule fraction of the number of new voters advocates predicted would have their voting rights restored.
Table: Florida lawmakers who voted to weaken Amendment 4 and received a total of $801,777 from the Walt Disney Company between 2016 and 2020
|Title||Name||Contributions from Disney|
|Representative||SPROWLS, CHRISTOPHER J (CHRIS)||$25,000|
|Representative||CLEMONS SR, CHARLES WESLEY (CHUCK)||$21,265|
|Representative||TOLEDO, JACKELINE VALLEJO||$21,000|
|Senate||PERRY, WARREN KEITH||$18,000|
|Representative||PLASENCIA, RENE (COACH P)||$17,000|
|Representative||RASCHEIN, HOLLY MERRILL||$16,000|
|Senator||BRANDES, JEFFREY R (JEFF)||$15,000|
|Senator||MAYFIELD, DEBORAH J (DEBBIE)||$15,000|
|Senator||PASSIDOMO, KATHLEEN C||$15,000|
|Representative||KILLEBREW, SAM H||$14,450|
|Representative||TRUMBULL JR, JAY N||$14,000|
|Senator||DIAZ JR, MANNY||$14,000|
|Representative||PEREZ, DANIEL ANTHONY||$14,000|
|Representative||PLAKON, D SCOTT||$12,181|
|Representative||LA ROSA, MIKE||$12,000|
|Representative||LATVALA, CHRISTOPHER JOHN||$12,000|
|Senator||RODRIGUEZ, ANA MARIA||$11,000|
|Representative||GRANT, JAMES (J W)||$10,000|
|Senator||LEE, THOMAS A (TOM)||$10,000|
|Representative||FITZENHAGEN, HEATHER DAWES||$8,000|
|Representative||LEEK, THOMAS J (TOM)||$7,000|
|Senator||BAXLEY, DENNIS K||$7,000|
|Representative||MARIANO, AMBER LYNN||$6,600|
|Representative||DICEGLIE, NICOLA G (NICK)||$6,000|
|Representative||FERNANDEZ-BARQUIN, JUAN ALFONSO||$6,000|
|Representative||CUMMINGS, WILLIAM TRAVIS||$6,000|
|Representative||CARUSO, MICHAEL A||$6,000|
|Senator||BEAN, AARON PAUL||$5,000|
|Representative||SMITH, DAVID A||$5,000|
|Representative||ROBINSON, WILLIAM (WILL)||$5,000|
|Representative||ANDRADE, ROBERT ALEXANDER (ALEX)||$5,000|
|Senator||GAINER, GEORGE B||$5,000|
|Representative||MASSULLO JR, RALPH E||$4,300|
|Representative||BUCHANAN, JAMES VERNON||$4,000|
|Representative||HILL, WALTER BRYAN (MIKE)||$4,000|
|Senator||BRADLEY, JENNIFER E||$4,000|
|Representative||BELL, MELONY M||$4,000|
|Representative||GRALL, ERIN K||$3,600|
|Governor||DESANTIS, RONALD D (RON)||$2,500|
|Representative||OVERDORF, TOBIN ROGERS (TOBY)||$2,000|
|Representative||BRANNAN III, ROBERT C CHUCK||$2,000|
Data Source: FollowTheMoney.org