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 Florida’s legislative session ends, Disney is pushing lobbyists to step up their efforts to influence the Republican-controlled state legislature and to target land use related bills that could hurt the company, among other measures, said the people, who declined to be named in order to speak freely about the issues.
A spokesman for Disney declined to comment on the lobbying effort.
The battle between the entertainment giant and DeSantis started last year after Disney opposed the Florida bill that critics named “Don’t Say Gay,” which forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools for kindergarten through third grade.
Then, before DeSantis could strip the district where Disney is based of its self-governing status and replace the board that oversaw the area, a Disney-allied panel signed a long-lasting development agreement that drastically limits the governor’s control. DeSantis has said that state legislators are drafting legislation to nullify that agreement.
Republican officials and business leaders have increasingly criticized DeSantis’ salvos against the company. Former President Donald Trump and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — two of Florida governor’s potential 2024 rivals — and even former Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein have all pushed back on DeSantis for his battle with the company.
Since DeSantis suggested Monday that he wanted to develop land near Disney World, potentially by building a prison, Disney announced that “affordable and attainable housing” around the park is set to open in 2026.
Republican Florida state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia warned Disney not to fight back, as he stood next to DeSantis at a news conference Monday.
“I have a couple words for Disney. You are not going to win this fight. This governor will,” Ingoglia said. “One word of advice for Disney going forward: Let it go. Just let it go.”
At the same event, DeSantis vowed to nullify an agreement that would allow the Orlando amusement park to circumvent a special governing district board filled with DeSantis appointees.
Shortly after DeSantis’ remarks on Monday, Disney executives called on lobbyists to keep an eye on any Florida bills that could hurt the company and to start aggressively working against them, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter. There is a particular interest in combatting legislation related to land use following DeSantis’ remarks, this person said.
This person, who was unauthorized to speak publicly on Disney’s plans, told CNBC that one of the land-related bills Disney lobbyists are watching carefully is CS/SB 1604: Land Use and Development Regulations. Ingoglia introduced the bill in the Senate, and an identical bill was put forward in the state House.
Both chambers have introduced amendments that could affect Disney. The measures would allow a “newly elected or appointed governing body of the independent special district,” such as the DeSantis-appointed governing body of the Disney district, to review any development agreements and have the option to vote on whether that district will readopt that original development deal.
Both of those amendments were filed on Tuesday, the day after the DeSantis’ press conference where he hammered Disney, according to the state legislature website.
Disney and CEO Bob Iger don’t appear to be taking DeSantis and his allies’ latest moves lightly.
Friends of Iger’s say that the Disney CEO could be hoping that a new lobbying effort against DeSantis and allies, along with a critical public perception of the governor’s actions, might 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 Bob comes out ahead,” a longtime ally of Iger’s told CNBC. “He feels Disney is ready for the fight but I think he’s sort of watching the governor try to float his own boat on this one.”
A Disney spokesman told CNBC that this perception of Iger is “not accurate.”
DeSantis’ potential competitors in a presidential primary have pounced on the controversy as a chance to stick it to the Florida governor. Trump, who is running for president, and Christie, another potential 2024 candidate, have both ripped DeSantis for his war with Disney.
“Disney’s next move will be the announcement that no more money will be invested in Florida because of the Governor — In fact, they could even announce a slow withdrawal or sale of certain properties, or the whole thing,” Trump said in a Truth Social post response to DeSantis’ latest fight with the company, without citing evidence that the company could take those steps.
Early GOP primary polls show DeSantis as the second leading candidate behind Trump. The ex-president has held a massive edge in most of the recent polls.
The Disney feud may cost DeSantis donors, too. Some Republican megadonors, who were once staunchly in DeSantis’ corner for 2024 GOP, have called the governor’s allies recently to say they might not help him run for president, according to a longtime DeSantis ally. Instead, they said they could back another possible candidate in Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., this person said.
There may be a way out of the protracted fight, however. Before DeSantis’ latest attack, Iger had hinted to Time that he was open to trying to make amends with the governor.
“I do not view this as a going-to-mattresses situation for us. If the governor of Florida wants to meet with me to discuss all of this, of course, I would be glad to do that,” he said.
Iger has also publicly ripped DeSantis’ treatment of Disney.