Florida Governor Ron DeSantis‘ threat to launch legal action against Bud Light‘s parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), over claims its recent floundering sales has damaged Florida’s pension fund has been shot down by legal experts.
DeSantis, a Republican 2024 hopeful, accused AB InBev in a recent Fox News interview of pursuing a “political agenda at the expense of your shareholders” when it used transgender social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney to promote Bud Light earlier this year.
The promotion featured Mulvaney opening a beer can featuring her face to celebrate the one-year anniversary of her transitioning, which she promoted on her Instagram channel. It resulted in a major conservative boycott of Bud Light, which saw the value of AB InBev’s stock plummet by billions.
In a letter to the state’s pension fund manager, DeSantis called for legal action against Bud Light’s parent company over claims it had “breached legal duties owed to its shareholders” when it decided to associate itself with “radical social ideologies” with its Mulvaney promotion.
Speaking to Fox News on July 20, DeSantis said the investigation could lead to a derivative lawsuit filed on behalf of the shareholders of the Florida pension fund against AB InBev.
“Because, at the end of the day, there’s got to be penalties for when you put business aside to focus on your social agenda at the expense of hardworking people,” DeSantis said.
Attorney Arash Sadat, partner at Mills Sadat Dowlat LLP, said that DeSantis is facing an “uphill battle” in suggesting the company should face action from a fallout of a promotional campaign.
“First, it’s not entirely clear what action, if any, he says AB InBEV should take at this point to correct the alleged ‘breach of duties.’ And we won’t know for sure until the shareholders make a formal demand or file a lawsuit,” Sadat told Newsweek.
“Corporate executives are given a great deal of latitude under the law to make decisions that they feel are in the company’s best interests. This is called the ‘business judgment rule’ and it presents a fairly high bar for shareholders to overcome. Even assuming that the recent dip in Bud Light sales was caused by either the Mulvaney marketing campaign or Bud Light’s failure to fire those responsible for it, it’s not at all clear that these decisions were so ill-conceived that they justify court intervention,” Sadat added.
“The reality is that brands are increasingly willing to align themselves with the LGBTQ+ community as part of their marketing efforts. This, in-and-of itself, indicates that this type of marketing campaign was within the range of what many other companies have deemed to be in their best interests, and also shows that the backlash that Bud Light received wasn’t necessarily foreseeable.”
DeSantis has long made battling against the so-called “woke agenda” a key part of his work as Florida governor, and looks set to continue to speak out against “woke” during his 2024 campaigning.
The stoking of the culture wars has seen DeSantis engage in a long running feud with Disney after the company spoke out against the governor’s so-called “don’t say gay” bill which banned the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in certain grades at Florida schools.
Adam J. Zayed, managing trial attorney of Zayed Law Offices, suggested that DeSantis claims that AB InBev can be sued for damaging the state’s pensions with the Mulvaney promotion is an “inflammatory publicity stunt” from the governor.
“Lawyers cannot file lawsuits based on personal conjecture or speculation. Additionally, from a business perspective shouldn’t corporations be allowed to market to new audiences in an attempt to grow their franchise? It seems probable that the alleged backlash by Bud Light consumers was unreasonable and based on prejudice,” Zayed told Newsweek.
Speaking to Fox News’ Jesse Watters, DeSantis said the calls for an inquiry into AB InBev is akin to his other battles against “woke corporations” who are “trying to change society.”
“We did that against Disney and others, and that’s important. But the flip side of it is—just as you suggest—when you start pursuing a political agenda at the expense of your shareholders, that’s not just impacting very wealthy people.
“It impacts hardworking people who were police officers, firefighters and teachers in terms of their pension,” DeSantis said.