Pulse survivor challenges Disney to cease support for NRA-friendly gubernatorial candidate

By : Layla Ferris
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ORLANDO | Pulse nightclub shooting survivor Brandon Wolf is calling for Walt Disney World to “stop supporting NRA sellouts” such as Adam Putnam, a Republican running for Florida governor in the 2018 election.

Wolf denounced Disney’s contributions toward Putnam’s campaign in a video released with media company NowThis on June 12, two years after the Pulse nightclub shooting.

From the time Putnam publicly launched his campaign in May 2017, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. and Disney Worldwide Services, Inc. contributed nearly $434,000 to Putnam’s campaign, according to Putnam’s Florida Grown political committee contributions sheet.

Disney Worldwide Services, Inc. controls and operates networking centers and data processing systems; it is a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. Disney Worldwide Services, Inc. contributed $414,000 to Putnam’s campaign, according to the contributions sheet. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S. owns and operates theme parks and resorts and is also a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. It gave a one-time contribution of about $19,795 to Putnam’s campaign, according to the contributions sheet.

The NowThis video states Putnam is one of several candidates Disney is funding.

Putnam recently came under fire for a July 2017 tweet in which Putnam calls himself a “proud NRA sellout” and his role in the approval of tens of thousands of concealed weapons permits that weren’t fully vetted.

As Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Putnam heads the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This department is responsible for conducting background checks on applicants and issuing concealed weapons permits.

The department did not conduct full background checks on those applying for a concealed weapons permit from February 2016 to May 2017, according to a June 2017 report from the Office of Inspector General.

An employee failed to log into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), an FBI crime database that ensures applicants do not have a disqualifying history in other states. The error resulted in nearly 300,000 applications being approved without full screening during that time.

“And if you know anything about concealed carry reciprocity, that process means that there are over 30 states — over 30 of the United States — that accept Florida’s concealed carry permits as their own,” Wolf says. “So the impact of not processing background checks for an entire year on those applications for concealed carry permits — the impact could be massive.”

Adam Putnam, Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate.

With more than $19 million in contributions, Putnam’s gubernatorial campaign funding has surpassed that of the other candidates running alongside him. Florida Grown has received sizeable contributions from The Walt Disney Company, Publix, Florida Power and Light and U.S. Sugar.

But Wolf says Disney was personal.

Wolf says Disney has gotten the brunt of his backlash due to its support of Central Florida’s LGBTQ community.

“[Disney] actually [has] volunteers onsite at the Pulse memorial to help guide folks through the new memorial site and all of the features that we have there, and for that reason — because I consider Disney as a friend to the community — I think it’s our responsibility, sometimes, to call our friends on the carpet and ask them to stop doing things that are harmful to us,” Wolf says.

Putnam responded to the concealed carry permit issue in a statement released June 6, saying 365 applicants should have been vetted further and 291 permits were revoked due to non-criminal disqualifying factors such as drug abuse or mental illness.

While non-criminal disqualifying offenses weren’t checked, the state did conduct background checks using the Florida Crime Information Center database and the National Crime Information Center database during that time.

Watermark reached out to Putnam for comment on this story and received a response from Meredith Beatrice, Putnam’s director of communications. The response received was Putnam’s comments as they appeared in the Orlando Sentinel.

“The state of Florida is better off because of corporate citizens like Disney [and Publix]. They employ hundreds of thousands of individuals, they support families, they’re generous to our communities,” Putnam said to the Sentinel. “I hope that for political purposes people don’t try to tear down some of the best corporate citizens not just in Florida but in this country.”

While Wolf hasn’t heard back from Disney, he says he’s excited about the possibility of sitting down with community leaders and Disney leaders to discuss how to move forward.

“I’m confident that Disney will do the right thing,” Wolf says. “I am confident that they will reconsider their support of Adam Putnam especially after the news that he was negligent, and potentially criminally negligent, in processing background checks for those concealed carry permits for a year.”

While Wolf spoke directly to Disney, Publix was also subject to protests surrounding its campaign contributions. In May, a series of “die-in” protests were held in Publix supermarkets across the state to protest the support of Putnam.

Wolf says he didn’t participate in any of the die-ins but that he was “very supportive” of the efforts. Wolf warns people to be aware that Publix shifted its contributions into a PAC and continued donations to Putnam.

“Publix is certainly not off the hook, and their support of Adam Putnam hasn’t faded, they’ve just found a way to get it out of the media,” Wolf says.

There are no campaign contributions from Publix supermarkets or Publix employees on the Florida Grown contributions sheet after the die-ins and Publix’s subsequent announcement to stop contributing to Putnam’s campaign.

While Wolf says he thinks communication is the way to approach Disney, he doesn’t know if other companies that support Putnam would be as open to hearing from him.

“[Disney has] been a tremendous ally in piecing us back together [after the Pulse shooting], so if there’s a chance to sit down and talk, I think that’s probably the best way forward,” he says.

DAZED magazine’s Summer 2018 cover. Image courtesy DAZED magazine.

In addition to publicly calling upon Disney, Wolf has worked with DAZED magazine to appear on its cover alongside a group of other youth activists fighting to reform gun laws. The cover was for LGBTQ activist and writer Adam Eli Werner’s article on the gun violence epidemic.

Wolf is also the vice president of The Dru Project, an LGBTQ advocacy organization that aims to support gay-straight alliances. The organization was made after the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016, that left 49 people dead, including Wolf’s best friend Christopher Andrew Leinonen and Leinonen’s boyfriend Juan Ramon Guerrero.

The organization promotes its cause by creating a curriculum for high school Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) to use and offering scholarships. The 2018 Spirit of Drew Scholarship awarded $5,000 to five recipients, though the intention was to award only three winners.

“We had such a hard time deciding that we just decided to give away five $5,000 scholarships instead, which I think is really special,” Wolf says.

Wolf says The Dru Project has raised more than $200,000 for LGBTQ youth, awarded 10 grants to GSAs and unveiled the country’s most comprehensive GSA curriculum.

Disney was also contacted for this story. At press time they have not responded back.

Additional reporting by Jeremy Williams.

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