Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have been engaged in a blood feud for more than a year. On Tuesday DeSantis’ self-appointed governing board of the Walt Disney World district in Orlando dismantled all of the diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in it. In February, Disney decided to cancel construction of a $1 billion office, and removed its new Star Wars-themed hotel. This battle of course is in the wake of Disney speaking out against DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay,” bill. The Orlando Magic have decided that their name is Bennett. They are not in it, and are continuing business with both sides.
At the beginning of the 2022-23 NBA season, the Magic announced that they had agreed to a multi-year community-sponsorship agreement with Disney. Included in that deal is the Magic continuing to adorn their jerseys with the Disney patch. DeSantis vs. Disney was well underway at that point.
San Francisco Chronicle politics editor Alex Shultz discovered that in June the Magic contributed $50,000 to a DeSantis Super PAC. The listed donor is not listed as Dan DeVos — chairman of the organization — RDV Inc., or the Daniel & Pamella DeVos Foundation. The source name of the donation is Orlando Magic LTD.
“To clarify, this gift was given before Governor DeSantis entered the presidential race,” Chief Communications Officer Joel Glass said. “It was given as a Florida business in support of a Florida governor for the continued prosperity of Central Florida.”
According to Federal Election Commission records, the Magic made three previous donations: $500 in 2016 to “Conservative Results,” $2,000 in 2014 to “Maverick PAC USA,” and $500 in 2000 to Linda Chapin for congress.
A reminder: This is a team that held Pride Night back in March.
The NBPA also offered a statement, calling the donation “alarming.”
“A political contribution from the Orlando Magic is alarming given recent comments and policies of its beneficiary.
NBA governors, players and personnel have the right to express their personal political views, including through donations and statements. However, if contributions are made on behalf of an entire team, using money earned through the labor of its employees, it is incumbent upon the team governors to consider the diverse values and perspectives of staff and players.
The Magic’s donation does not represent player support for the recipient.”
New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. offered his thoughts:
“So the @OrlandoMagic who have a majority black roster, a black head coach, and a black GM decided it was a good idea to support a man that claims that slavery had personal benefits for the enslaved?” Nance, a 2015 first-round NBA Draft pick, asked.
The DeVos family has long been staunch supporters of the Republican party. Dan’s late father Richard purchased the Magic in 1991. He was appointed by former President Ronald Regan to his Presidential Commission on AIDS. Betsy DeVos is Dan’s sister-in-law, and former President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education.
While it may be unusual for the team name to be listed on a political donation, what is commonplace is wealthy people playing both sides. FiveThirtyEight published data on sports team owners’ contributions to election cycles from 2016 to 2020. While the overwhelming majority of the money went to the Republican side, many team owners donated to both parties.
According to James Dolan’s dollars, he is Team Elephant. He donated nearly $1.5 million to the Republican party during those three election cycles. However, Dolan also donated just over $128,000 to the Democratic party.
Dolan is not alone. Dan Gilbert, the Haslems, Stephen Ross, Jerry Reinsdorf, Arthur Blank, and others gave money to both sides. DeVos donated well over $2 million to the Republican party over those three election cycles, but while that is a large number it pales in comparison to the owner of the San Francisco Giants. Charles Johnson contributed nearly $11 million to the Republican party, but even he decided to flip the Democrats a few shillings — just over $5,000.
DeVos did not contribute any money to the Democrats, although he did give $30,000 that was labeled as “bipartisan.” While the only blue that gets his money is the Magic, him keeping the organization financially partnered with one of DeSantis’ biggest rivals is an example of influence trumping politics.
DeSantis is putting a hurting on Florida’s economy with his war against the Mouse. DeVos knows that it would harm both his franchise and the entire league for the Magic to have a contentious relationship with a world-renowned brand in their city. The Disney family of networks airs NBA content, including The Finals. DeVos has made his support for DeSantis clear by putting his franchise’s name on a political contribution, but someone had to dig through public records to find that.
While in the heat of DeSantis’ battle with Disney, the Magic put out a press release with Markelle Fultz wearing Mickey Mouse ears and a glove to announce the continuation of a longtime partnership. DeVos may not have been quoted in the release, but the fact that it was published on his team’s website said more than he ever could have put into words.
DeVos endorses DeSantis’ politics and values, but the public battle is the governor’s business.