While Ron DeSantis continues hounding Disney for criticizing him and legislation he favored, the Florida governor is allowing a second corporation to get away with its “wokeness” despite having received millions of dollars in state incentives.
DeSantis, a Republican expected to jump into the 2024 presidential race next month, has criticized Anheuser-Busch for its marketing campaign featuring transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney and even produced a video mocking its Bud Light brand. Yet he has done nothing to punish the company that in 2015 received $15 million in cash and other incentives from Jacksonville and Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development entity.
“Even a child grabs a hot pot on the stove only once,” said longtime Republican consultant and lobbyist Mac Stipanovich, adding that, at least so far, Anheuser-Busch has not tried to engage with DeSantis directly. “They have not explicitly criticized him or one of his initiatives, and he has his hands full with Disney, a battle that is not benefiting him as it continues.”
Over a two-year period ending in 2017, Anheuser-Bush’s Metal Container Corp. nearly doubled the size of its can and bottle cap factory to start making aluminum bottles, investing $170 million and creating 75 new jobs.
Between the can company and the nearby brewery, Anheuser-Busch now employs about 800 in the state.
DeSantis has been open in his explanations that he wanted to punish Disney for having “woke” values ― his governor’s office press secretary wrote at one point: “Go woke, go broke.”
And DeSantis has said Anheuser-Busch should similarly pay a price for its actions. “I’d rather be governed by ‘we the people’ than woke companies, and so I think pushback is in order across the board, including with Bud Light,” he told serial plagiarist-turned right-wing celebrity Benny Johnson in a recent interview.
It is unclear, however, why he has not tried to punish Anheuser-Busch with legislation or executive action, even though, unlike Disney, the company actually did receive a monetary benefit from the state.
DeSantis’ press office did not respond to HuffPost queries, but one top Florida Republican pointed out that Anheuser-Busch has remained a political donor to the party. Disney, in contrast, stopped its contribution program in Florida after DeSantis in March 2022 signed the “Parental Rights in Education Act,” which critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“Lots of beer distributors and Anheuser-Busch have been big supporters, and maybe that network of support dissuades action,” the Republican consultant said on condition of anonymity.
Anheuser-Busch has given the Republican Party of Florida $47,080 over the past two months, according to the state’s campaign finance records. It also gave the party $50,000 in August 2022, much of which went toward DeSantis’ reelection effort, and had given DeSantis’ political committee $75,000 in the weeks ahead of the 2021 legislative session.
Anheuser-Busch, while based in Missouri, has operated a brewery in Jacksonville since 1967. In 1975, it opened a can factory there as well, and in 2015 the company chose it over two competing cities as the site to increase its production of aluminum bottles as an alternate method of packaging its beer. The city of Jacksonville put up grants and other incentives totaling $12 million, while the state kicked in grants totaling nearly $3 million.
Disney ― while it was given the Reedy Creek Improvement District in 1967 that allowed it to collect property taxes from itself to pay off bonds it sells to finance roads and other public works on its property ― has not received cash grants from the state.
DeSantis in April 2022 rammed through a law eliminating that taxing district entirely, apparently unaware that doing so would shift the responsibility of paying off $1.2 billion in outstanding bond debt from Disney to Central Florida taxpayers. To undo that unintended consequence, DeSantis pushed through a second law this February, repealing the elimination of the district and instead changing its structure so that he could appoint all its board members.
The new board, though, learned at its first meeting that Disney had outmaneuvered DeSantis by passing a long-term development plan and an agreement making it impossible for the new board to make changes to it for as long as a century.
Disney on Wednesday sued DeSantis in federal court over his board’s attempt to void the last-minute provisions, while DeSantis is pushing a third bill through the legislature attempting to codify that action in law.
No such effort appears to be in work to punish Anheuser-Busch as Florida lawmakers enter their final week in the annual session.
“Maybe the governor knows better than to get between voters and their beer,” said another top Republican, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. “Or perhaps he’s realizing that these retaliatory and vindictive acts by a supposedly free market Republican government isn’t making Florida look very free. Pro-business Republicans and members of the legislature are already grumbling privately.”