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Song of Suppression

Disney Backed 96% of Florida Republicans Who Sabotaged Voting Rights Ballot Initiative, Contributed Over $800,000 Between 2016 and 2020

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

TitleNameContributions from Disney
RepresentativeSPROWLS, CHRISTOPHER J (CHRIS)$25,000
SenatorSIMPSON, WILTON$21,000
RepresentativeTOLEDO, JACKELINE VALLEJO$21,000
SenatorGRUTERS, JOE$17,000
RepresentativePLASENCIA, RENE (COACH P)$17,000
RepresentativeRENNER, PAUL$16,600
RepresentativeBURTON, COLLEEN$16,000
SenatorSTARGEL, KELLI$16,000
RepresentativeRASCHEIN, HOLLY MERRILL$16,000
SenatorHUTSON, TRAVIS$15,000
SenatorRODRIGUES, RAY$15,000
RepresentativeTOMKOW, JOSIE$15,000
RepresentativeKILLEBREW, SAM H$14,450
RepresentativeTRUMBULL JR, JAY N$14,000
SenatorDIAZ JR, MANNY$14,000
RepresentativePEREZ, DANIEL ANTHONY$14,000
RepresentativeROMMEL, BOB$13,300
RepresentativeALOUPIS, VANCE$13,000
RepresentativeINGOGLIA, BLAISE$13,000
RepresentativePAYNE, BOBBY$12,600
RepresentativePLAKON, D SCOTT$12,181
RepresentativeSULLIVAN, JENNIFER$12,181
RepresentativeLA ROSA, MIKE$12,000
RepresentativeROACH, SPENCER$12,000
RepresentativeLATVALA, CHRISTOPHER JOHN$12,000
RepresentativeWILLIAMSON, JAYER$11,700
RepresentativeSANTIAGO, DAVID$11,000
RepresentativeFINE, RANDY$10,700
RepresentativeFISCHER, JASON$10,300
RepresentativeAVILA, BRYAN$10,000
RepresentativeGRANT, JAMES (J W)$10,000
SenatorLEE, THOMAS A (TOM)$10,000
RepresentativeDRAKE, BRAD$10,000
RepresentativeEAGLE, DANE$9,000
RepresentativeRODRIGUEZ, ANTHONY$9,000
RepresentativeMCCLAIN, STAN$8,300
RepresentativeYARBOROUGH, CLAY$8,300
SenatorALBRITTON, BEN$8,000
RepresentativeLEEK, THOMAS J (TOM)$7,000
RepresentativeDUGGAN, WYMAN$7,000
RepresentativeMCCLURE, LAWRENCE$7,000
SenatorBAXLEY, DENNIS K$7,000
SenatorHOOPER, ED$7,000
RepresentativeSTEVENSON, CYNDI$6,600
RepresentativeMARIANO, AMBER LYNN$6,600
RepresentativeLAMARCA, CHIP$6,000
RepresentativeDICEGLIE, NICOLA G (NICK)$6,000
RepresentativeCUMMINGS, WILLIAM TRAVIS$6,000
RepresentativeSTONE, CHARLIE$6,000
RepresentativeCARUSO, MICHAEL A$6,000
SenatorBEAN, AARON PAUL$5,000
RepresentativeDONALDS, BYRON$5,000
RepresentativeSMITH, DAVID A$5,000
RepresentativeROBINSON, WILLIAM (WILL)$5,000
SenatorSIMMONS, DAVID$5,000
SenatorGAINER, GEORGE B$5,000
RepresentativeOLIVA, JOSE$5,000
RepresentativeMASSULLO JR, RALPH E$4,300
RepresentativeZIKA, ARDIAN$4,000
RepresentativeBUCHANAN, JAMES VERNON$4,000
RepresentativeGRANT, MICHAEL$4,000
RepresentativeHILL, WALTER BRYAN (MIKE)$4,000
RepresentativeBELL, MELONY M$4,000
RepresentativeSIROIS, TYLER$4,000
SenatorHARRELL, GAYLE$4,000
RepresentativeGRALL, ERIN K$3,600
RepresentativeBYRD, CORD$3,300
SenatorGALVANO, BILL$3,000
GovernorDESANTIS, RONALD D (RON)$2,500
RepresentativeOVERDORF, TOBIN ROGERS (TOBY)$2,000
RepresentativeBELTRAN, MIKE$2,000
RepresentativeALTMAN, THAD$2,000
RepresentativeBRANNAN III, ROBERT C CHUCK$2,000
RepresentativeFETTERHOFF, ELIZABETH$2,000

Data Source: FollowTheMoney.org