And money from Disney is continuing to flow into many of the highest-profile legislative races this summer. The company has given a total of $1.4 million so far -- including the costs of free hotel rooms, meeting space, food and entertainment provided to candidates -- to fund political causes this election cycle, the vast majority of it steered to Republicans.
Many of those dollars are finding their way into GOP primaries.
The company gave $40,000 on July 20 to Florida Forward, a committee controlled by future House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Port Richey, who is steering those dollars into ads helping fund two Miami and Tampa-area House races.
Disney gave another $40,000 to Citizens for an Enterprising Economy, a committee controlled by Rep. Chris Dorworth, a Lake Mary Republican slated to lead the House in 2014. He steered $20,000 of it to help an old friend, Eric Lasso, in his Orange County Commission District 3 race.
And Disney is helping to bankroll TV ads for state Rep. Rachel Burgin in her bitter primary fight with past Senate President Tom Lee for a Tampa-area Senate seat, records show.
Disney wrote a $30,000 check on July 12 to Floridians for Strong Leadership, a fundraising committee controlled by state Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican.
A day later, Flores' committee cut a $30,000 check to Accountable Florida, another political fund used to accept big checks and buy ads. One week after that, Accountable Florida paid $17,633 to Orlando-based Sloane MacKenzie Public Affairs to create and secure air time for a TV ad touting Burgin.
"It was an ad that highlighted Rachel's conservative actions in the House," said Timothy Buckley, who owns Sloane MacKenzie. The spot is airing on Tampa cable stations.
Records show Accountable Florida was created less than a month ago, and the money it got from Flores' committee is the only contribution it received through July 20. The Sloane MacKenzie ad buy was one of only two expenditures it lists, the other being a $25 wire-transfer fee.
Meanwhile Flores' fundraising committee has raised $54,500 so far this year. More than half of that came from Disney's $30,000 donation.
Burgin, R-Tampa, is in a nasty primary battle with Lee, R-Brandon, who served as Senate president from 2004 to 2006. He was best known for championing ethics reforms, including a law that forces lobbyists to disclose details about their income.
The Senate's current leadership -- including incoming President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and his expected successor Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando -- all back Lee. Since January, the two men have raised more than $3 million to support their preferred GOP primary candidates in Jacksonville and Tampa races through their Florida Conservative Majority fund.
But many lobbyists and corporate interests such as Disney are lining up behind Burgin, who has accused Lee of supporting expanded gambling.
The race has turned into one of Florida's ugliest contests. Another third-party group set up by Tallahassee lobbyists called the American People Committee recently paid for a mailer that attacks Lee by claiming he "abandoned his marriage for a gambling lobbyist" in his first Senate term. The attack drew a rare public rebuke from Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry and enraged Gaetz.
"Rachel Burgin is a very nice person but sometimes people get desperate when it looks like they're losing," Gaetz said.
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