DeSantis’ Oversight District Accuses Disney of Bribing Government Employees, Disney Calls Report “Neither Objective Nor Credible”

    The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District has released a report that it claims shows that Disney World allocated benefits and perks that were “akin to bribes” and called the former Reedy Creek Improvement District a “mousetrap”. The report, which was prepared in part by lawyers for the District, holds back no punches and does not pretend to be wholly impartial. Instead, the purpose of the report, as noted in the agenda for an upcoming CFTOD Board of Supervisors meeting, is to discuss the historical issues involving the operation and governance of the RCID. In this article, we will cover some of the high-level issues presented in the report.

    The report summary begins by outlining how the former RCID was established and how it operated. The RCID was originally set up by an act of the Florida Legislature in 1967. The report said that Disney controlled the RCID because it controlled the Board of Supervisors. Members of the Board were selected by a landowner vote, and because Disney was (and still is) the overwhelming majority landowner, it was able to pick members that it wanted. One vote was allocated per acre of land owned by landowners in the District. Today, there are 57 other landowners within the CFTOD, but Disney remains the majority landowner and taxpayer.

    Board Members were only eligible for service if they owned land within the District. The report says that Disney temporarily deeded 5-acre plots of District land to preferred Board Members to hold during the duration of their service. Board Members were required to return the property to Disney at the conclusion of their service. The report says that Disney paid the property taxes, and said that the payment of property taxes was an improper cash gift to Board Members, calling it “further evidence of their capture by Disney”.

    The report says that Disney also received control over the two cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, with the only residents being Disney employees that rented mobile home plots from Disney. Combine that with the powers bestowed upon RCID by the Florida Legislature such as the power to create building regulations and manage its own land use regulations, and the report says that Disney had a pocket government that was under its control.

    The report goes on to accuse Disney of not only trying to capture and control the Board of Supervisors for the RCID, but all of the employees too. The report claims that Disney provided improper benefits to RCID employees such as complimentary annual passes and steep discounts typically reserved for Disney World Cast Members. The report said that the benefits were initially provided for free, but that Disney eventually began charging the District for the perks to the tune of millions of dollars annually.

    The report claimed that “when Disney paid for these benefits, they were improper—akin to bribes of public officials and employees”.

    The report acknowledges other developments such as The Villages and even Universal Studios are also part of special districts, but says that “no other special district in Florida was granted nearly so much power”. The report says that other special districts such as the ones listed above, are subject to land use, planning, and other regulations that didn’t apply to Disney. The report claims that the “super-special” nature of the RCID gave Disney a leg up on the competition, and even may have prevented some businesses from even trying to compete.

    The report calls the former RCID a “corporate subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company”, noting that Disney controlled the membership of the Board. The report acknowledges that the RCID “technically operated as a public entity with public notice and public meetings, [but] there was little reason for the public to participate in RCID meetings and hearings”. The report says that Disney was able to successfully capture the RCID’s loyalty by making perks available to District employees via the pass agreement that were similar to those enjoyed by Cast Members. The report claims that those perks “created the mindset at the RCID that employees were supposed to serve Disney, not the public good or other District taxpayers”.

    What the report doesn’t seem to do is level any accusations of illegality. There are a lot of hypotheticals presented, but nowhere does the report call out any criminal activity after numerous experts were given full access to the District’s files and activity over the past decade. reached out to Disney and was provided with the following statement from a Disney Spokesperson:

    This report is an exercise in revisionist history. It is neither objective nor credible, and only seeks to advance CFTOD’s interests in its wasteful litigation that could derail investment within the district. Further, it does not change the fact that the CFTOD board was appointed by the governor to punish Disney for exercising its Constitutional right to free speech. This report also comes on the heels of numerous reports in the media which have raised legitimate concerns around the governance of the district under its new leadership. While the board may wish to undermine Disney’s ability to continue investing in the region, we are extremely proud of our impact on the Central Florida economy over the past half-century and we remain committed to maintaining the highest quality experience for the tens of millions of guests who visit Walt Disney World each year.
    Disney Spokesperson

    A CFTOD Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, December 6th where we anticipate hearing more from the Board about the report they commissioned.

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