Billionaire Ken Griffin criticized Ron DeSantis’s ongoing feud with Walt Disney Co., calling the Florida governor’s battle with a major employer in his state “pointless.”
“It doesn’t reflect well on the ethos of Florida,” Griffin said in an interview with CNBC scheduled to air late Monday. DeSantis needs to “make it clear to the entire United States of America, Florida is open to companies that want to create jobs.”
“The fight with Disney runs counter to that narrative,” he added.
Griffin, the founder of hedge fund Citadel and market-maker Citadel Securities, relocated his business from Chicago to DeSantis’s state. His criticism comes as DeSantis, a Republican presidential contender, attempts to court donors to fund his struggling campaign. DeSantis is a distant second to former President Donald Trump in the Republican primary polls and has so far failed to win over several major GOP donors — including Griffin — who have held off on contributing to Trump or DeSantis.
DeSantis’s spat with Disney began last year after the company publicly stated its opposition to what critics call Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which restricts teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms. The feud has ballooned into a political and legal war between the governor and the entertainment giant that employs about 70,000 people in the state.
Griffin signaled support for DeSantis earlier this year, telling Bloomberg in an interview that he would love to see the governor run for president. But he told CNBC he is not impressed with the alternatives to Trump and is undecided on whom he plans to back.
“I’m still on the sidelines as to who to support in this election cycle.” Griffin told CNBC. “If I had my dream, we’d have a great Republican candidate in the primary who was younger, of a different generation, with a different tone for America. And we’d have a younger person on the Democratic side in the primary who would have his message for our country.”
Griffin’s decision to withhold support could have major implications on the 2024 election. Griffin has a fortune estimated at $37.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Griffin was the second largest Republican donor in the 2022 midterm elections, giving $72.7 million to GOP candidates, according to OpenSecrets.
“I don’t know his strategy,“ he said of DeSantis. “It’s not clear to me what voter base he is intending to appeal to.”
“Florida, under his leadership, crushed it during the pandemic. They’ve had just tremendous success,” he added. “Sometimes success goes to people’s head.”
DeSantis has slowly lost ground to Trump. The former president is polling at 56.6%, with DeSantis at 12.7%, according to the average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.
Griffin announced in 2022 that he was moving the headquarters of his companies to Miami from Chicago citing a rise in crime and dissatisfaction with political leaders in Illinois as his primary motivations. He has repeatedly criticized Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat.
He told CNBC that Citadel is growing in Miami and New York City, cities he contrasted favorably with the “anarchy” of Chicago.
“These are two cities in the United States that have a really important value proposition for young graduates from college,” he said. “That’s pulled us towards Miami, towards New York from other cities in America where the quality of life has deteriorated over the last several years on the back of a variety of issues that came out of the pandemic.”
Citadel, which employs about 4,500 people globally, now has about 250 employees in Miami, with plans to build a headquarters in the city costing at least $1 billion.