State Reps. Elizabeth Fetterhoff and Webster Barnaby have joined a growing number of Republican lawmakers to return campaign contributions from the Walt Disney Co. in a fight over what critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Republicans passed HB 1557, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this week. Among other things, the law named by sponsors as “Parental Rights in Education” prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.
“We will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination,” DeSantis said.
Critics, including many Democrats in the Legislature, fought bitterly against the bill, arguing it will do more harm than good. The bill received attention from “Saturday Night Live” and the Academy Awards hosts, while Disney employees — representatives of an LGBTQ+ friendly business with a huge footprint in Florida — pushed for a stronger statement by their management.
On Monday, the day DeSantis signed the law, The Walt Disney Co. issued a statement reading, in part: “Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”
On Wednesday, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Harding announced he was returning $3,000 Disney had provided his campaign. Others are following suit, including Fetterhoff and Barnaby.
Campaign finance records show Fetterhoff and Barnaby had each received $2,000 from different subsidiaries of the company last year.
While they represent separate districts in Volusia County, redistricting has put them both into the new District 29, so Fetterhoff and Barnaby will be running against one another in the Republican primary to remain in the Florida House.
“Parents, who are their children’s first teachers, should always have a voice and decision-making rights in the education of their children,” Fetterhoff said in a prepared statement. “I stand with Gov. DeSantis, Speaker Chris Sprowls, and most importantly Florida’s parents in support of their parental rights and the ability for them to make decisions regarding the education of their children.”
Barnaby said he will return the contributions in a text message.
“The attacks on Florida’s families and parents’ rights have gone too far,” Barnaby said in a prepared statement. “Lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation have no place in classrooms full of 5, 6, and 7-year-olds.”
Renner, Leek, Brodeur have raked in Disney cash
Records show other Volusia-Flagler area lawmakers have received far greater contributions to their campaigns and political committees from various Disney operations.
- Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Lake Mary, between his 2022 campaign fund and his political committees, got more than $124,000 since 2016.
- Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast and the incoming House speaker, received $60,000 for his PAC and $1,000 for his campaign since 2018.
- Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, got $10,000 for his PAC in 2019 and 2020.
Brodeur, Renner and Leek did not respond to a request Thursday for comment on whether they plan to return any of the Disney money.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism