The Orlando Sentinel published the results of a telling investigation into Walt Disney World’s recent political-spending habits on Thursday, and they may have Florida residents seeing a lot more red than blue.
According to the Sentinel’s review of Florida state records, the megaresort, a unit of the Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), has spent almost $2.5 million on political candidates and causes in the Sunshine State during this election season. The overwhelming majority of that money -- 90 cents of every dollar, by the Sentinel’s count -- has gone to Republican candidates or Republican-leaning interest groups.
Disney’s apparent objective is to wield influence over state legislators who oppose bringing Las Vegas-style casinos to southern Florida. An expansion of casino gambling in Florida could hurt Disney World’s bottom line, luring visitors away from the family-friendly vacation resort and into the arms of a “Sin City East.”
Disney’s Magic Kingdom, located in the Orlando suburb of Lake Buena Vista, is the fifth most-visited tourist destination in the U.S., according to Forbes magazine.
Disney is among the largest corporate lobbying forces in Florida -- one of only a handful of companies whose election spending has topped the $2 million mark this year, according to the Sentinel. But its backing of Republican lawmakers might come as a surprise to those who view the Walt Disney Co. as having progressively supported liberal causes, particularly in the area of gay rights.
The parent company has offered health benefits to its employees’ same-sex partners since 1995. Although that policy was initially a response to pressure from Hollywood studios, it has since earned Disney a great deal of criticism in Florida, where groups such as the Florida Family Association have accused the company of displaying “outright disrespect and arrogance in their attitude toward the American family,” according to Entertainment Weekly.
Disney World has also tolerated -- if not officially sanctioned -- the Gay Days celebration that takes place there each summer. That event, too, has drawn the scorn of the Florida Family Association, which this year flew an airplane banner over the resort to warn unsuspecting tourists before they expose their children to “same-sex revelry.”
The Walt Disney Co. has never officially come out in support of gay marriage, but it has allowed same-sex ceremonies at its resorts as part of the “Fairy Tale Weddings” package since 2007.
But even in a red-leaning swing state like Florida, where 62 percent of voters approved a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, Disney’s soft support of gay-rights issues is not as diametrically opposed to the local political climate as it might seem. Gay Days is a boon for Disney World’s bottom line, bringing in an estimated 150,000 extra visitors, with an estimated economic impact of $13 million, according to OrlandoGayTravel.com.
Disney World will likely continue to back conservative lawmakers as the fight over casino-gambling expansion heats up. A bill that would have permitted resort-style casinos in southern Florida was withdrawn by its legislative sponsor in February.
But the idea isn’t dead. The Genting Group, the Malaysian gaming conglomerate that bought the Miami Herald building last year, was one of the primary forces behind the pro-casino bill. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the company is pushing to make casino expansion happen next year -- and it’s already spent $1.3 million during this election cycle.
Whether it’s successful may just come down to that age-old question of American politics: Which megacorporation can outspend the other?
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