Looks like a special election this spring to fill a vacant north-central Florida seat in the state Senate drew the attention of none other than Walt Disney World.
New campaign-finance records show that Disney gave a combined $15,000 to a pair of political groups that were paying for everything from television advertising to polling on behalf of Charlie Dean, a former Republican House member from Inverness who just won the off-season Senate election.
Dean's biggest opponent in that campaign was Dennis Baxley, also a former Republican House member from Ocala who for the last two years has sponsored a controversial bill aimed at forcing companies to allow their employees to keep guns in their cars when they park at work. Disney fiercely opposed the legislation; company representatives even privately lobbied Republican House Speaker Marco Rubio against it this spring.
The records show Disney gave $7,500 each to the Florida Chamber of Commerce Alliance and Florida Mainstreet Merchants, a group controlled by the Florida Retail Federation, on June 5th, the day of the GOP primary in which Dean defeated Baxley by less than 400 votes. Disney gave another $500 directly to Dean -- the maximum any contributor can give directly to a candidate -- after the primary.
Randy Miller, a lobbyist for the Retail Federation, whose members include Disney, said Baxley's support for the gun measure prompted a number of businesses to side with Dean in the tight race.
"The guns-at-work bill had a big impact for us," Miller said.