Ron DeSantis on Monday requested an investigation into the Walt Disney Company’s last-minute deal with a painting it controls about to be replaced by a painting controlled by Florida’s governor.
DeSantis worked with Florida lawmakers to take control of the Reedy Creek District, where Disney World is located, after a dispute with the theme park company over a state law that bans classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.
But Disney officials have bested DeSantis in control of more than 24,000 acres of land near Orlando, prompting DeSantis to declare “you ain’t seen nothing yet” and vow to keep fighting with the house that Mickey Mouse built.
And Disney shows no signs of backing down, as both sides reignite a war of words and prepare for what could be a long and costly legal battle.
CEO Bob Iger criticized DeSantis for being “anti-business and anti-Florida” at the company’s annual shareholder meeting. He accused the governor of retaliating against the company.
Ron DeSantis has requested an investigation into the Walt Disney Company’s last-minute deal with its control panel about to be replaced by one controlled by the governor of Florida.
Last year, after Disney halted political donations in Florida because of its “Don’t Say Like Me” law, Florida lawmakers ended the self-rule privileges that Disney World had had since 1967.
DeSantis appointed the Central Florida Tourism Control Board to replace the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was controlled by Disney and oversaw development at Disney World.
Before DeSantis’ board could take control, Disney officials and the old board struck a deal that would allow the company to bypass the new board’s control, using an obscure legal clause checking the name of King Charles III.
In addition, Disney has the 30-year approvals for zoning, infrastructure and air rights that the company might need if it chooses to expand its theme park — meaning it can do so without approval from DeSantis’ hand-selected board.
At a meeting last week, the new board hired five law firms to examine these agreements, possibly taking Disney’s case to court.
And DeSantis’ office warned that the agreements the previous board tried to enforce at the 11th hour are likely to be invalid, and all legislative options are back on the table.
Disney is once again fighting to preserve its corporate benefits and avoid Florida law. “We will not let that happen,” his office said in a statement.
Disney CEO Bob Iger said Ron DeSantis is “anti-business and anti-Florida”
Disney World is Central Florida’s largest employer, with approximately 75,000 employees
DeSantis asked the state to investigate what happened.
“These collusion and self-dealing arrangements are intended to invalidate recently passed legislation, undermine Florida’s legislative process, and defy the will of Floridians,” DeSantis wrote in a letter to Melinda Miguel, Florida’s chief inspector general. Any legal or ethical violations must be referred to the appropriate authorities.
Meanwhile, Iger showed contributors that he’s not afraid to get into a street fight with DeSantis, who is reportedly exploring a bid for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
“A company has as much right to free speech as an individual does,” Iger said, referring to Disney’s criticisms last year of the “Don’t Say Like Me” law.
Iger added that DeSantis is taking revenge on us – in effect to punish a company for exercising its constitutional right. “And that seems really wrong to me.”
He noted that “diversity is a real priority for us” and expressed his desire that Disney continue to create content that promotes “greater understanding and acceptance”.
Disney World is Central Florida’s largest employer, with nearly 75,000 employees, and attracted 36.2 million visitors in 2021, according to the Objective Entertainment Association.
Iger noted that Disney is the largest taxpayer in Florida and plans to invest $17 billion over the next 10 years.
“Our view is that any action that thwarts those efforts simply to retaliate for a position the company has taken appears not only to be hostile to business, but anti-Florida,” he said.
Disney World is located in Florida in the so-called Special Tax District, known as Reedy Creek. The setup allowed the company to have as much autonomy as an actual province—control of fire protection, policing, road maintenance, and development planning.
Because of the deals Disney had with the old board, DeSantis’ new board can do little more than maintain roads and control basic infrastructure.
Disney’s deal states that the provisions will remain in effect until “21 years after the death of the last surviving descendant of King Charles III, King of England who was living as of the date hereof proclaimed.”
This “last survivor” is 1-year-old Princess Lilibet of Sussex, who lives in California.
Disney’s deal invokes a mysterious legal clause that says it runs for 21 years after the death of the last surviving great-grandson of King Charles III, the King of England who was living as of the date of this announcement.
The Reedy Creek Improvement stretches over nearly 40 square miles and includes the entire Walt Disney World Resort. It will be renamed the Central Florida Tourism Control District under a new board of directors controlled by the governor
Lawyers use the so-called “royal clause” to sidestep rules against contracts that last forever. The British royal family was chosen because information about their family tree is readily available, and because the family generally has a “longer life expectancy,” according to the law firm Bricketts.
Often used in connection with credits and options for acquiring property, the legal maneuver was created to circumvent forever laws, and to increase the potential length of time that credits in particular can remain in effect.
In this particular case, that time span could be—if not nullified—a large number of years, with Charles’ youngest surviving grandchild, Princess Lilibet, being only a year old.
Lawyers hired by the new board claim the agreement with the old board was confidential.
However, Disney’s lawyers believe that the agreement was made within the dictates of state law, and The Wall Street Journal reported. The gist of the old board meeting — including a description of the plan on which it was voted on — was announced twice in print articles published in the Orlando Sentinel in January, as required by law.
DeSantis-appointed board members have accused the company of backroom deals.
Board member Ron Perry said last week that “this essentially makes Disney the government” of the territory.