Florida Republicans Target Bloomberg For Paying Off Court Debt of Formerly Incarcerated People Hoping to Vote

Nicole Rojas
Sep 23, 2020 - 12:18

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Former presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg joined a long list of celebrities raising money to help Floridians convicted of felonies pay off outstanding fines and fees in order to finally regain their right to vote. The move could lead the billionaire to face a criminal probe, Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz claimed on Fox News. 

The Florida representative told “Hannity” host Sean Hannity that he spoke to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody about Bloomberg’s fundraising efforts and donation. Gaetz said he believed that a criminal investigation is already underway regarding “the Bloomberg-connected activities in Florida.” 

“[Under Florida law] it’s a third-degree felony for someone to either directly or indirectly provide something of value to impact whether or not someone votes. So the question is whether or not paying off someone’s fines and legal obligations counts as something of value, and it clearly does,” Gaetz said, according to The New York Post

“Normally, it would be very difficult to prove that that was directly linked to impacting whether or not someone was going to vote. But they literally wrote their own admission,” he continued. 

Gaetz was referencing a Washington Post article that cited a memo from Bloomberg’s team that said Bloomberg viewed the campaign effort as “a more cost-effective way of adding votes to the Democratic column than investing money to persuade voters who already have the right to vote.” 

The Republican congressman said he was encouraged by his conversation with Florida’s attorney general that law enforcement around the country were “looking for the cheating and the tricks that these Democrats are going to try in this election.” 

Bloomberg Raises $20 Million to Help Pay Poll Tax

Bloomberg helped raise more than $16 million for the campaign and donated an additional $5 million to pay off court debt of 32,000 formerly incarcerated people in Florida, Axios reported. The debt, which amounts to a modern-day poll tax, prevented Floridians with felony convictions from registering to vote. 

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “Working together with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, we are determined to end disenfranchisement and the discrimination that has always driven it.” 

In November 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4 that repealed a Jim Crow-era law that disenfranchised individuals with a felony conviction after serving their sentencing and completing probation or parole. However, Republicans have worked to limit that amendment by forcing these Floridians to pay all fines and fees connected to their sentence before allowing them to register to vote. 

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) aims to restore the voting rights of Floridians convicted of felonies who have outstanding court debt. Desmond Meade, executive director of the FRRC, thanked Bloomberg and others for supporting the campaign. 

“The outpouring of support for retiring citizens is reminiscent of the type of support we received from people from all walks of life during our Amendment 4 campaign. Just as in our campaign, this effort is about placing people over politics,” Meade said in a statement. “The democracy that we envision is not one where an American is forced to choose between putting food on the table or voting. The ability to vote should be unencumbered and free of charge. With this effort, we are creating a more inclusive democracy that we all can be proud of.” 

The FRRC did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment on Gaetz’s remarks. However, in a statement released on Sept. 23, the organization said its efforts have been aimed at creating a more inclusive democracy in Florida. 

“Since the passage of Amendment 4 in 2018, this grassroots movement has been, and always will be, about people over politics. It’s not about a particular donor, it’s not about a particular party,” the statement said. “It’s about people. Our work is squarely centered on the 1.4M returning citizens in Florida, and restoring their rights and so that they can participate fully in our Democracy.”

The statement added: “This has, and always will be, about freeing the vote for everyone in Florida, no matter who they vote for.” 

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

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