Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy is questioning the sincerity of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political war with Mickey Mouse. The conservative entrepreneur said DeSantis has shown more deference toward The Walt Disney Co. than his current, well-publicized feud would suggest.
During an April 30 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” his first on the program, Ramaswamy spotlighted an exception written into a 2021 Florida law targeted at social media companies and that protected Walt Disney, a major Florida employer. Ramaswamy said that signing the law with an exception tailored to Disney made DeSantis beholden to corporate interests.
Ramaswamy was referring to a provision of SB 7072, a legislative priority for DeSantis that prohibited social media companies from “willfully deplatforming a candidate” and defined such an action as “an unfair or deceptive act or practice.”
“So, Florida passed this political anti-discrimination statute, which I applauded at the time,” Ramaswamy said. “It said if you operate internet companies, this includes streaming services like Disney does, that you can’t engage in viewpoint discrimination.
“Now, here’s the funny dirty little secret of that. They wrote into (it) a last-minute exception into that law for anyone who also operates a theme park more than 25 acres in the state of Florida. That’s crony capitalism.”
DeSantis is “now railing against crony capitalism,” Ramaswamy said, yet DeSantis “was the one who actually passed that into law for the case of Disney. So, I think that undermines the credibility of his crusade. I prefer to get to root causes rather than doing political stunts.”
We found that Ramaswamy’s description of history is largely correct. Although we heard back from Ramaswamy’s team, DeSantis’ office did not respond to inquiries for this story.
DeSantis distanced himself from the Disney provision after signing it May 24, 2021, according to news reports, and he has shown the company little love since 2022. That was the year Disney opposed the Parental Rights In Education Act, which critics labeled the Don’t Say Gay bill. DeSantis then pushed the Legislature to approve a measure that stripped Disney’s special governing status from an area that includes the Walt Disney World resort. This sparked a legal back-and-forth that remains unresolved.
The story of a bill
Under SB 7072, social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook could be fined up to $250,000 a day for barring a statewide political candidate in Florida from their platforms.
Originally, the law was thought to benefit former President Donald Trump, who was removed from Facebook and Twitter after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump and DeSantis — a onetime Trump acolyte — have been at odds in the run-up to DeSantis’ expected entry into the 2024 Republican presidential primary, a race Trump has already entered.
Ramaswamy was correct to describe the provision as a carve-out for Disney.
The bill text signed by DeSantis defines the term “social media platform” to exclude “any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex as defined in s. 509.013.”
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The reference at the end of that sentence points to a provision of Florida law that is the source of the “25 acres” terminology Ramaswamy cited. It defines “theme park or entertainment complex” as a “complex comprised of at least 25 contiguous acres owned and controlled by the same business entity and which contains permanent exhibitions and a variety of recreational activities and has a minimum of 1 million visitors annually.”
There was little mystery at the time that the provision about theme park operators was designed to protect Disney, specifically its streaming service, Disney+.
“The idea is to make sure that we’re capturing social media companies,” state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, who sponsored the bill in his chamber, told reporters, according to a May 7, 2021, report by the News Service of Florida. “And in the definition, it hits a threshold where, quite frankly, Disney+ winds up meeting that threshold.”
In other words, Ingoglia said, the exemption aimed to ensure that Disney+ “isn’t caught up in this.”
Ramaswamy was also correct to label the change as a “last-minute” provision. The amendment containing the language was submitted on April 29, 2021, the same day the full bill passed both chambers. Prior versions of the bill lacked such references.
After the bill passed but before he signed it, the News Service of Florida article characterized DeSantis as having “distanced himself” from the Disney carve-out during remarks to reporters.
“I think there were concerns about things that I didn’t quite think that bill was even going to impact,” DeSantis told reporters.
Later, DeSantis said he considered vetoing the legislation because of the carve-out, though the Tampa Bay Times reported on emails showing that DeSantis’ staff was involved in last-minute negotiations over language that Disney was proposing for the bill.
In 2023, Florida lawmakers, with DeSantis’ support, passed bills that eliminated other carve-outs for Disney, including requiring state inspections of the theme park’s monorail service and overhauling its special district.
The fate of the 2021 tech platform law now rests with the U.S. Supreme Court, after lower courts blocked the law’s implementation on First Amendment grounds.
Ramaswamy said DeSantis signed “a last-minute exception into an anti-discrimination law for anyone who also operates a theme park more than 25 acres in Florida,” benefiting Walt Disney Co.
In 2021, DeSantis signed a bill that sought to punish tech companies for removing statewide candidates in Florida from their platforms — a major legislative priority for him. After weeks of consideration, legislators in the hours before passage added a carve-out to the bill to protect Disney, which offers streaming services and has large Florida operations.
DeSantis signed the bill that included the Disney provision. He said after passage that he didn’t believe the language was necessary, even though his staff was involved in late negotiations over wording.
The statement is accurate but needs additional information, so we rate it Mostly True.