DeSantis’ feud with Disney appears to be paying off in the form of campaign donations

Florida governor’s position on culture war issues catches the attention of donors nationwide, political expert says

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ongoing fight with Walt Disney World appears to be paying off in the form of campaign donations.

Campaign finance records show DeSantis has raised more than $100 million between his campaign and political committee, a staggering sum that’s sending a strong message to Republicans and Democrats.

Last month, DeSantis’ campaign collected nearly 10,000 donations from within the state of Florida. But hundreds of contributions also came from out of state -- places like California, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania.

Political experts say DeSantis is basically punishing Disney for the company’s public condemnation of the new Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The governor, in response, backed legislative action to revoke Disney’s special status in Florida, dissolving the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

“Disney should not be exempt from the laws that every single person in Florida has to pass,” DeSantis said at a news conference Monday.

It’s just one of several culture wars that University of North Florida political science professor Michael Binder says appear to be paying off.

“And it’s not just Disney, right? There have been a series of bills that he’s passed this session that have kind of targeted those culture war issues -- a 15-week abortion ban, there are a number of different things, going after tenure, with post-tenure review for college professors -- a list of kind of red meat for the conservative right,” Binder said. “And it’s not shocking at all, right? He the guy’s on Fox News all the time. So, sure, it makes sense that people from Montana are sending in money and people from California and Texas -- there are Republicans in California.”

On March 10, his campaign sent a fundraising email with the headline, “Woke Disney Falls to the Media Pressure.”

That day, according to campaign finance records, more than 900 people gave small donations of $100 or less, adding up to nearly $30,000.

Five days later, with another campaign email attacking Disney, more than 500 similar contributions of $100 or less came in, totaling more than $18,000.

Binder says the national attention DeSantis is attracting is part of a much bigger political play.

“Listen, he’s raising money, theoretically, for a fall race. But I think he’s got his eye on a race two years from now that might be more important to him,” Binder said.

Binder suspects DeSantis ultimately has his eye on a 2024 presidential run, which he says could lead to a battle between DeSantis and former President Donald Trump. But in the short term in the race for governor, Binder says, DeSantis has a huge leg up on his competition.

“DeSantis has a pile of money. He has enormous support within his party. And he’s evening drawn in some report from NPAs and a few Democrats -- I don’t want to say if Democrats are supportive of his stances, but there’s a few that have kind of lept over to his side,” Binder said.

For comparison’s sake, here’s how much the three leading Democrats who hope to face DeSantis in the fall have raised between their campaigns and committees:

  • Former Florida governor and now U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist has raised more than $8.2 million.
  • Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has brought in more than $6.3 million.
  • State Sen. Annette Taddeo has raised about $1.3 million.

About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.