Disney vs. DeSantis Ethics Update

 

1. NPR reported that “DeSantis wanted to punish Disney. Repealing its tax status may hurt taxpayers instead. The bill will undercut Disney’s autonomy, but it could impose a steep cost on Orange and Osceola counties, where the theme park is located. The two counties would inherit the Disney district’s debts, which officials say would result in higher taxes.” This theme was echoed—talk about echo chambers!–all over the mainstream media, and it appears to be nonsense, an attempt to undermine the decision and to mislead the public. “Officials” turned out to be a single Orange County Democrat, so the plural was fake news as well as a dishonest appeal to authority. In addition, the only entity certain to see a tax hike as a result of the loss of Disney’s special status will be Disney because its tax break is gone. And why would Florida be on the hook for Disney’s debts? Disney borrowed the money, and Disney still has the cash to pay them off. [Source: Don Surber]

2. On the incompetence and irresponsible conduct front, Disney’s action’s mandate this standard Ethics Alarms clip in reference to the company’s woke CEO…

Since it impetuously shot off its public declaration of opposition to the Florida Parental Rights Law, Disney’s stock has dropped precipitously, costing the company nearly $50 billion in value. This hurts stockholders obviously, and constitutes a needless self-inflicted wound.

3. I rank this assessment from Jon Gabriel as correct. He writes that DeSantis and Florida…

…showed Disney that pro forma DEI press releases have a cost. When you wrongly call the governor, statehouse, and a majority of Florida voters anti-gay and transphobic, there will be a price to pay. When you promise to work to overturn the people’s will and defeat their representatives, pushback will follow. The horrible punishment? Being treated like any other company. This message wasn’t only delivered to Disney. MLB can pull an all-star game from Georgia; do that south of the border and maybe you don’t get that new ballpark in Miami. Huge multinational corporations can ridicule red-state residents all they want, but they might want to diversify their stock portfolio first….The next would-be woke CEO might decide it’s wiser not to spout off.

None of this violates free speech. Slam a state government all you want, but don’t expect special carve-outs for your shareholders. Being a huge multinational doesn’t guarantee you extraconstitutional rights.

An oft-cited comparison is San Antonio trying to keep Chick-fil-A out of their airport for the company’s Christian views. Since The Big Cluck didn’t have any sweetheart deals with the city, this is a non-starter. They should be treated like any other fast food joint. And Disney can be treated like any other entertainment company.

Another criticism is that DeSantis is violating conservativism by meddling in the free market.

It might violate libertarianism, but not conservatism. At least since the 1980s, conservatism has been a three-legged stool, aligning economic freedom, national defense, and social issues. A materialist theory like libertarianism reduces humans to homo economicus; all that matters to human flourishing is the almighty dollar. But conservatism asserts there is much more to life, including upholding a standard of public values and protection from foreign threats.

Libertarianism often aligns with conservatism, but not always. A conservative might want to ban a strip club from opening in his neighborhood; a libertarian would insist “Sketchy Sammy’s Boom Boom Room” is just fine. DeSantis is a conservative, not a libertarian, so he has not violated his stated principles.

4. As usual, First Amendment specialist Prof. Eugene Volokh has a nuanced and scholarly view:

Government decisions that retaliate against people or organizations based on their speech are often unconstitutional. Board of Comm’rs v. Umbehr (1996), for instance, held that the government generally can’t deny contracts to a contractor because of the contractor’s First Amendment activities. And some appellate decisions have held that withdrawal of legal advertising from a newspaper because the government doesn’t like the newspaper’s editorial positions violates the First Amendment.

Likewise, the government can’t generally fire employees because of their speech or political activity, at least unless the disruption caused by the employee’s actions outweighs the employee’s free speech rights (whatever exactly that means). Pickering v. Bd. of Ed. (1968). And the government can’t strip people of tax exemptions or other benefits based on their speech or political activity. Speiser v. Randall (1958).

[2.] But here’s a twist: What Florida is planning to withdraw from Disney is essentially a form of government power that Disney had been specially granted—Disney’s ability to effectively run this special district (as I understand it does), with the legal authority this entails under state law. And if we follow the employment analogy, officials exercising political power are generally not protected from retaliation by other political figures, at least when the retaliation consists of benefits conferred by the other political figures in the first place.

If, for instance, a committee chairman switches parties (or otherwise offends party leadership with his political positions), he could be stripped of the powers that his colleagues have given him, even if a low-level government employee can’t be. Likewise if a state cabinet member who has been chosen by a governor is removed from office by the governor (assuming state law allows such removals) based on the cabinet member’s political speech. I take it that when a city council appoints a mayor or a city manager, it can (if state law so allows) remove that official as well, including based on the official’s speech or other political activity.

To be sure, Disney isn’t exactly a political official. (I agree that corporations have First Amendment rights, but that doesn’t mean they can be elected to office.) But the Legislature had in effect given it a particular form of political power, which it now seeks to withdraw. That strikes me as a potentially relevant analogy.

[3.] There’s also a broader question, which isn’t limited to grants and withdrawals of political power. Umbehr and similar precedents involved the sorts of contracts (there, for trash disposal) that pretty any much company could bid for, and that the government would give to someone else if it denied the contracts to the challenger; likewise for the typical government employment situation. Other benefits, like various kinds of tax exemptions, are likewise generally available to a wide range of people.

What makes this case unusual is that this is an extraordinary status that Disney got because it was Disney, and withdrawing that status would simply put Disney in the same position as other companies in that geographical area, and the bulk of other companies in Florida. (There are other special districts in Florida, but my sense is that few of them were set up precisely to be controlled by a particular commercial enterprise.) Even apart from the political nature of the district, might the Legislature have the power to take away such extraordinary benefits, even based on the beneficiary corporation’s speech?

To give an analogy, various state laws give special treatment to the NRA, e.g., providing that shooting range standards “shall be no more stringent than national rifle association standards.” (Ohio) or that county ranges be set up in part for “encouraging marksmanship by permitting National Rifle Association sanctioned or approved pistol matches to be held at such range” (Minnesota). Some of these laws were passed when the NRA was less politically active than it has been recently. Others might have been passed when the party in control of the legislature liked NRA’s politics.

Say that the state legislature decides that it doesn’t like the NRA any more, because of the NRA’s position on gun control laws, and decides to just eliminate this special treatment. I’m inclined to say that the legislature could do so.

One other analogy might be Ysursa v. Pocatello Educ. Ass’n (2009). There, government employees had been able to authorize payroll deductions not just for general union dues but also for union political activities. In 2003, the Idaho Legislature banned deductions for union political activities (employees could still pay the union directly, but not through the deductions, which were quite valuable to the union).

Presumably this was motivated in part by legislative disagreement with unions’ political positions (though the Court didn’t discuss the motivation in detail, and it did note in a footnote that the parties hadn’t “raised any issue of viewpoint discrimination”)—after all, if the majority of the legislature liked the unions’ positions, it seems unlikely that they would have enacted a law that would have thus limited union power. But the Court upheld the change: “Idaho does not suppress political speech but simply declines to promote it through public employer checkoffs for political activities.” Likewise, now that Disney has increased its political role in Florida politics, it may be that the Florida Legislature may conclude that it doesn’t want to give Disney special benefits that other entities don’t get.

But none of these analogies, of course, are squarely on point; and I know of no other precedents that dispose of the matter…

5. It’s difficult to choose the most misleading, biased, unhinged reaction to the Florida slap at Disney, but this exchange between CNN’s Trump-Deranged reporter Jim Acosta and CNN’s fake token conservative Ana Navarro is a fine representative. Beware: the Stupid is strong with this one (Source: Newbusters)…

JIM ACOSTA: And Ana, I have to talk to you about what’s going on in your state of Florida. The governor there, Ron DeSantis, is punishing Disney for opposing this so-called Don’t Say Gay law. Aren’t Republicans supposed to be against cancel culture? What do—what do– you make of what’s been happening with this? We’re showing the video right now. He’s surrounded by all of these children. The other thing that stands out to me, as somebody who’s been to Disney World a lot with my family, I just can’t imagine a Florida politician going after Walt Disney World. What do you make of all this?

ANA NAVARRO: It’s really—it’s really– insane. It’s, as a Floridian, I’m frankly horrified by the environment this creates. Listen, it’s not like Walt Disney World waged war against this legislation. What they-what they– did was the CEO issued a statement about a bill that many of his employees had huge concerns about.

He didn’t show up at the capitol with an army of Mickey Mouses dressed in rainbow platform heels. He made a statement. And that statement should be covered by freedom of speech. And so if you are a pro-freedom of speech, against canceling, pro-business Republican, I don’t know how you justify hostage taking.

Political hostage taking and political blackmail against a corporation for speaking up about a concern of their employees. Disney is one of the largest private employers in the state of Florida. It’s got thousands, tens of thousands of employees raising families in this state who care about what happens in their schools.

And, you know, it’s such hypocrisy and it’s such insanity. It doesn’t make political sense. It doesn’t make economic sense. Because—because– guess who’s going to get stuck with the tax bill, now after going away and eradicating the special taxing authority. The residents of Osceola and Orange County. They should be paying very close attention to this, but it’s also meant to send a chilling message to the entire private sector and business world in Florida.

Tell the CEOs to cower under their desk and not dare speak up against anything that might be a pet cause of the legislature or the governor and that’s just wrong. That kind of stifling of freedom of speech by a corporation, by an individual, is absolutely wrong. They’re doing it out of spite. They’re not even bothering to pretend that this is not punitive action taken against a corporation because of political action.

They’re not even bothering to say differently. And it is, it’s bad for the economy. It’s bad for the business sector and I think it’s just completely anathema against Republican traditional values and also let me remind you that Walt Disney World has been one of the biggest political donors to Republican legislators and the Republican governor and the Republican Party of Florida for decades and decades and decades.

I have gone to countless events in Disney World Parks and in Disney hotels held by the Republican Party of Florida, raising money for them. So I’d like to know if the Republican Party of Florida is going to return all of those donations from Walt Disney World. I’d like to know–what the business sector is going to do to stand in solidarity with Disney World so they are not all silenced and being stifled by—by—by– a legislature and governor that have, you know, just gone insane with their pettiness.

In the meantime, Floridians can’t get home insurance. In the meantime, they haven’t done a damn thing to reform condo laws so that condo buildings don’t collapse in the middle of the night, killing and trapping people inside. So, it’s irresponsible. it is just craziness, absolute craziness.

 

Well, let try to total-up the nonsense and misinformation:

  • Making Disney play by the same rules as every other theme park in Florida isn’t “cancelling” it. Acosta’s statement is either deliberately misleading viewers to make a false claim of hypocrisy, or he doesn’t know what “cancel culture” means.
  • Hilarious: Acosta calls it the “so-called” Don’t Say Gay law. That label is a lie, and Acosta is appropriating the deception and siding with its critics while simultaneously trying to distance himself from it. What a weasel. How about calling the law by it’s actual name, Jim? Isn’t that “reporting”?
  • Disney can “go after” Florida’s lawmakers, but the lawmaker’s can’t respond. Disney can bite teh hand that feeds it, and the owner of that hand can’t say, “Fine. Feed yourself.” Got it.
  • Navarro is a constant embarrassment, but CNN doesn’t have the integrity to be embarrassed. Disney didn’t “wage war” against the bill, it just declared war on the law. What else would you call its statement?

“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

Of course, neither Navarro nor Acosta shared the statement with viewers. Journalism!

  • The Freedom of Speech bit is especially ignorant, as well as hypocritical. These are the same people who deny that corporations should have First Amendment right, as they continue to oppose the Citizens United decision. But as Eugene Volokh points out above, free speech can still have consequences, especially when the speaker is receiving special privileges.
  • How is opposing Disney’s opposition to a bill prohibiting schools from teaching sexual topics to third-graders “anathema to Republican traditional values”?
  • Navarro repeats the false talking point that stripping Disney of special status will be costly to Florida.
  • What does the Disney issue have to do with home insurance? Navarro is a babbling idiot, and yet CNN puts her on TV constantly.

18 thoughts on “Disney vs. DeSantis Ethics Update

  1. Boy, there’s so much stupid in there it’s hard to unpack it all.

    The bottom line, as I see it, is that an argument asserting that the legislature has no right to revoke special privileges it granted in the past if it’s motives are disagreeable to the Left is not just specious, it’s risible. I really appreciate you pointing out the hilarious irony of the media declaring Disney’s free speech rights implicated after their overt and hysterical opposition to Citizen’s United. This is yet one more example of the Left’s utter lack of self-awareness, sensitivity to hypocrisy, or to feeling any kind of shame for advancing arguments that manifestly contradict their own professed cannons.

    Of course, some district judge somewhere in Florida will declare the law unconstitutional. I believe the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will promptly nix that, given the much better odds of a conservative panel. In any event, it seems unlikely that this law will actually be implemented on schedule.

    But that doesn’t matter at all. The entire reasoning for this was to show the country that Republicans are willing to fight back against “woke” corporations — not just the teacher’s unions, politicized and incompetent agencies like the CDC, and blue state governments — including via legislation. That’s a powerful message, and DeSantis is going to be the primary beneficiary. He may suffer some political damage from the mushy middle, but he will gain with others, so I consider it likely to be a wash in Florida, and a major feather in his proverbial cap in most of the country.

    The Democrat outrage and fake “arguments” are de rigeur and largely proforma without any basis at all in rational thinking. Unfortunately, some people will be convinced by them, but that’s just a statement on the quality of American critical thinking skills, or lack thereof.

  2. I’m not sure revoking Disney’s special privileges actually violates libertarianism either. In general, libertarianism frowns on giving special privileges to one company over others, as it violates free market principles. Now, libertarianism would argue that no companies should be over regulated, so they might argue that ALL companies should be granted these special privileges that Disney was given, as a general rule. But the original laws were not in line with libertarianism to begin with, amounting to little more than crony capitalism.

    • In the commentary on Reason articles, there seem to be two camps on the law. The reason staff and a handfull of comments are opposed to the law and continuously misrepresent it (it’s possible it’s just Scott Shackford on the staff who is all in opposing the law), while most of the reader seem to think the law is just fine and approve of Disney losing it’s special status.

      But read for yourself: https://reason.com/2022/04/19/desantis-calls-for-end-of-walt-disney-worlds-self-rule/?comments=true#comment-9455588

      • Reason…drives me nuts. There are right and left branches of libertarianism, and Reason covers both. Which is actually good, there should be diversity of thought. My observations on left wing libertarianism have not been positive, though. A lot of ends justify the means rationalizations supporting all sorts of leftist issues without much in the way of libertarian principle being applied. If libertarianism somehow supports things like authoritarian takeover of the economy to enforce climate change ideology, then where does small government principle kick in? I read Reason, but I take it with a grain of salt. There are some podcasts I listen to, like the Part of the Problem podcast, which do a better job of being consistent when applying libertarian principles regardless of left or right wing propaganda.

      • Should Disney pull out of Florida and teach those dastardly republicans a lesson?
        “Perhaps the dumbest question I’ve ever seen in print…Has the idiot who wrote that ever seen Disney World? How do you move 25,000 acres?”

        Although not widely reported, millions of special woke democrats have turned their attention to AOC, eagerly awaiting her response.

      • I don’t get how they could lose $20MM per day – at the moment, they do not collect any property tax or any lodging taxes (Disney pays property tax to itself – after calculating how much they want/need to pay themselves; additionally, all of the hotel properties on Disney land pay their lodging taxes to Disney, not the local community). So if the Orlando area is currently getting revenues of $20MM per day, it is from taxes paid for services outside of the Disney empire – those should remain the same, while the property taxes for the Disney lands will go up to the range that would be paid by an entity that does not have a special carve-out, and the lodging taxes will be shared locally as well (which they are not currently required to share).

        Makes no sense.

    • Well, this should be ignored. As a business proposition, even if Colorado were to offer them absolute autonomy and free land with no strings, it would be so bad that I would actually cheer for it to happen.

      The whole purpose of Disney building Disneyworld and its surrounds was to better access the Eastern united states. Lots more Eastern families can afford to fly to Orlando than can afford to fly to California.

      Even if it were as simple as packing up the Palace into boxes and shipping it out to Colorado, that location is essentially for the same market as Disneyland, and they would literally compete with one another. There is virtually no significant difference in transportation cost from the East to Colorado or California.

      All of which shows you why Polis’ stupidity is being ignored by everyone other than the cheering of far-left opinion or laughter of those on the right. It isn’t serious, obviously wasn’t meant to be anything other than meaningless virtue-signalling, and has about as much chance of happening as Dumbo flapping his ears and flying to Alpha Centauri.

  3. There are so many bad things taking place surrounding the Disney vs Florida fiasco but here’s my long term concern; I think Republicans have just given an official stamp of approval that state government can get away with striking back at publicly voiced free speech from corporations that opposes the current ideological position of their state political pendulum.

    I think this whole thing is a huge slippery slope and once progressives get beyond their faux public opposition to this striking back action by the State of Florida they’re going to find a way to exploit this slippery slope precedent and extrapolate what they’ve learned to absurdity to strike a blow against all corporate free speech. Any opposition from corporations against progressives coveted political agenda items will be targeted with their new tool, the state government. Progressives just got carte blanche to systematically wield a tit-for-tat government hammer. I think Republicans just opened up a big can-o-worms.

    Like the pebble, I think this action by the State of Florida is going to have far reaching effects and help progressives do exactly what they’ve been wanting to do, squelch free speech with persecution and intimidation.

    Progressives should be proud that they’ve effectively broken our culture, it’s now politically correct on both sides of the political aisle to employ government sanctioned political persecution and intimidation.

    PERSECUTE
    Merriam-Webster: To harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict specifically : to cause to suffer because of belief.

    Cambridge: To treat someone unfairly or cruelly over a long period of time because of their race, religion, or political beliefs, or to annoy someone by refusing to leave them alone.

    Oxford: Subject (someone) to hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of their race or political or religious beliefs.

    MacMillion: To treat someone extremely badly, or to refuse them equal rights, especially because of their race, religion, or political beliefs.

    INTIMIDATE
    Merriam-Webster: To make timid or fearful : FRIGHTEN especially : to compel or deter by or as if by threat.

    Cambridge: To frighten or threaten someone, usually in order to persuade them to do something that you want them to do:

    Oxford: Frighten or overawe (someone), especially in order to make them do what one wants.

    MacMillan: To deliberately make someone feel frightened, especially so that they will do what you want.

    • I’m very wary of slippery slopes, but I am confident that Disney’s situation is sui generis. Since Florida would be justified in removing Disney’s special privileges without the provocation, I don’t see that this could be a precedent for punishing “free speech.” It’s punishing a company given breaks on the assumption that it would be a cooperative partner with the government when it stated that it would be publicly opposing the government. The gov, responds, fine—but don’t expect to be treated any differently than any other company if you do.

      • Jack wrote, “Since Florida would be justified in removing Disney’s special privileges without the provocation, I don’t see that this could be a precedent for punishing “free speech.” “

        I completely understand that you “don’t see that this could be a precedent for punishing ‘free speech’ “ but the problem is that progressives don’t think like you, if they did I there would be fewer problems in the United States.

        The fact is that Florida did not remove Disney’s special privileges without provocation, they were provoked and did it as a “striking back” retaliation. Progressives have shown us over and over again that they’ll latch on to, and employ, anything they think can squelch free speech they don’t like and help push their agenda.

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