Corporate Welfare at Its Worst
In Wednesday’s edition of the WSJ, Florida’s governor explains why he signed the law ending Walt Disney Co.’s self-governing status. That status encompasses over 43 square miles in central Florida, an area almost as big as Miami. Ron DeSantis informs readers.
Disney no longer has its own government. It has to live under the same laws as Universal Studios, SeaWorld and every other company in our state and is still on the hook for the old district’s municipal debt.
Disney’s special arrangement, which dates to 1967, was an indefensible example of corporate welfare. It provided the company with favorable tax treatment, including the ability to assess its own property valuations and to enjoy the benefits of regional infrastructure improvements without paying taxes toward the projects. It exempted Disney from Florida’s building and fire-prevention codes. It even allowed Disney to build a nuclear power plant and to use eminent domain to seize private property outside the district’s boundaries. While special districts are common in Florida, Disney’s deal was conspicuous in the massive benefits it conferred. Disney’s self-governing status endured because the company’s unrivaled political power in Florida made its arrangement virtually untouchable.
Control the Culture
Why would the state of Florida place Disney on a pedestal for over 50 years? Who’s to say it wouldn’t have gone on indefinitely? According to DeSantis, everything changed when left-wing activists in Burbank, CA (Disney headquarters) “pressured Disney to oppose Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act.”
The legislation bans classroom instruction on sexuality and gender ideology in kindergarten through third grade and requires that sex instruction in other grades be age appropriate. Disney executives were seen on videos boasting about the company’s plans to inject sexuality into its programming for children.
Although Democrats have often railed against corporations’ nefarious influence over politics and have opposed favorable exceptions for big companies, the Left supported keeping Disney’s special self-governing status. This, according to Ron DeSantis, “confirms how much the modern left has jettisoned principle in favor of power.”
As long as large corporations help advance the left’s woke agenda, the left is willing to do their bidding.
Florida’s governor has been asked by many after the Disney/Florida face-off:
Why would a company like Disney tarnish its family-friendly brand, built up over almost 100 years, by publicly aligning itself with the fringe left’s agenda to limit the rights of parents to have a say in what is taught to very young children? The answer lies in how the left has pressured big companies like Disney to use their power to advance the woke political agenda.
Leveling the Field: Gov. DeSantis’s Response:
In recent years, two factors have altered this calculation.
- Entitled Influence
First, groups of employees at some corporations want their employer to reflect their own political values. Such employees aren’t a majority, but they are loud and militant. Executives often try to placate these employees, without success. Instead, such gestures embolden the entitled employees to presume that their employer will fall into line in the next political battle. The inmates soon run the asylum.
- Raw Power
A traditional corporate executive may have power within the company, but a woke CEO can use the corporate bully pulpit to exert influence over society. This is especially true amid the push for environmental, social, and governance responsibility in corporate America. ESG provides a pretext for CEOs to use shareholder assets on issues like reducing the use of fossil fuels. ESG is a way for the left to achieve through corporate power what it can’t get at the ballot box.
Florida, according to DeSantis, understands the implications of the ESG movement.
We prohibited the state’s pension fund managers from using ESG criteria when making investment decisions. Florida has recovered its shareholder voting rights from large asset managers and is seeking to pool its votes with other states to create a potent anti-ESG voting bloc. In its coming session, the Florida Legislature will codify anti-ESG initiatives into law and protect Floridians from discrimination by large financial institutions on the basis of political or religious beliefs.
What is regrettable, adds Mr. DeSantis, is the upshot of woke ascendancy.
… publicly traded corporations have become combatants in battles over American politics and culture, almost invariably siding with leftist causes. It is unthinkable that large companies would side with conservative Americans on the Second Amendment, the right to life, election integrity or religious liberty.
In this environment, old-guard corporate Republicanism isn’t up to the task at hand. For decades, GOP elected officials have campaigned on free-market principles but governed as corporatists—supporting subsidies, tax breaks and legislative carve-outs to confer special benefits on entrenched corporate interests. But policies that benefit corporate America don’t necessarily serve the interests of America’s people and economy.
The Defacto Power of Woke Companies
When corporations try to use their economic power to advance a woke agenda, they become political, and not merely economic, actors. In such an environment, reflexively deferring to big business effectively surrenders the political battlefield to the militant left. Having private companies wield de facto public power isn’t in the best interests of most Americans.
Woke ideology is a form of cultural Marxism. Leaders must stand up and fight back when big corporations make the mistake, as Disney did, of using their economic might to advance a political agenda. We are making Florida the state where the economy flourishes because we are the state where woke goes to die.
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