Ron DeSantis threatened Bud Light’s parent company with legal action after the beer brand’s sales and stocks dropped because of right-wing backlash and transphobic boycotts over a transgender influencer’s sponsored social media post – a boycott that the Florida governor supported.
Mr DeSantis, who is seeking the 2024 Republican nomination for president, defended the boycott in a lengthy, wide-ranging interview with Megyn Kelly on SiriusXM after outlining the potential impacts of poor sales and stock prices on the state’s pension fund, which holds stock in Anheuser-Busch and InBev.
The right-wing news personality asked whether Mr DeSantis was “using government to punish citizens for political wrongthink,” an accusation often thrown at Democratic officials by conservatives.
“No. Take Anheuser-Busch. We’re not punishing them. They departed from business practices by indulging in social activism. That has caused a huge problem for their company, and their stock price has gone down,” Mr DeSantis said. “Well, our pension fund in Florida holds Anheuser-Busch/InBev stock. So it’s actually hurt teachers, it’s hurt cops, it hurts firefighters who depend on that pension fund, and so –.”
“Didn’t you support the boycott against them?” Ms Kelly interjected.
“No, I did, but that’s just as a personal thing, but I mean we didn’t have, like, the state government, you know, necessarily, you know, putting power about it, but as an American I said I’m not doing Anheuser-Busch, I’m not doing Bud Light.”
In a recent letter to a state agency that manages retirement accounts for state workers, Mr DeSantis suggested that InBev “breached legal duties to its shareholders” by associating with “radical social ideologies” after trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney posted a video to her Instagram account with a Bud Light can in May.
The video sparked widespread outrage among Republican officials and right-wing personalities who have filmed themselves dumping out beers, shooting bottles and cans, and pledging to boycott Budweiser products because a trans person was featured in marketing.
“All options are on the table,” Mr DeSantis wrote in his letter, though it’s unclear what the state can do to challenge the multinational company’s business decisions.
“When you take your eye off the ball like that, you’re not following your fiduciary duty to do the best you can for your shareholders, so we’re going to be launching an inquiry about Bud Light and InBev, and it could be something that leads to a derivative lawsuit on behalf of the shareholders of the Florida pension fund,” Mr DeSantis told Fox News host Jesse Watters on 20 July.
Ms Kelly also pressed the governor on his administration’s actions against the Walt Disney Company and its sprawling theme park campus in the state. The company and the DeSantis administration are suing one another following a feud over Disney’s opposition to what opponents have called Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law that boiled over into political and legal battles that could shape the company’s business in the state.
The governor has overseen what is effectively a state takeover of the municipal board that managed Disney’s park campus for decades, a move that the company has called a “targeted campaign of government retaliation”.
“Why can’t Disney oppose your law … without being punished by the state?” Ms Kelly asked the governor.
Mr DeSantis accused the company of “weaponising” state subsidies to speak out against state policy. The Reedy Creek Improvement District was first created in 1967 to give Disney control of its land use, zoning rules and public services without putting a tax burden on Florida residents.
“It’s not about entitlement,” Ms Kelly said. “If I go to my boss and I say, ‘You sexually harassed me,’ and then suddenly he reduces my salary from $200k to $100k, that’s retaliation.”
Mr DeSantis dismissed the comparison.
He accused Disney of supporting “sexualising kids” and putting its “corporate weight” behind that effort, as his administration and national agenda launches a crusade against inclusive classroom instruction and honest discussion of gender, sexuality, race and racism, as well as a series of policies that threaten LGBT+ people and gender-affirming healthcare for both transgender minors and trans adults.
A motion filed in US District Court on 26 June argues that Mr DeSantis is entitled to “legislative immunity” that shields the actions of the governor and lawmakers in “the proposal, formulation, and passage of legislation.”
Attorneys for Mr DeSantis argue that the governor and the secretary of Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity are both “immune” from the suit.
In filings this week, attorneys for the company argued that the governor is trying to evade responsibility for overseeing laws that “punish residents for political statements violating a state-prescribed speech code”.
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