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Florida AG calls for investigation into Bloomberg-backed felon voting rights effort

The former New York City mayor helped raise at least $16 million for felons to pay off outstanding legal fines and fees.
Image: Mike Bloomberg
Mike Bloomberg at a campaign event in Houston on Feb. 27, 2020.Michael Wyke / AP

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody on Wednesday called for an investigation into an effort backed by Mike Bloomberg to help restore the voting rights of thousands of felons ahead of the November election.

The former New York City mayor partnered with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to help raise at least $16 million for felons to pay off outstanding legal fines and fees in order to regain the right to vote. The effort is targeting around 32,000 former prisoners who owed less than $1,500 in restitution fees and had already registered to vote.

"Today, I sent a letter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation into potential violations of election laws," Moody said in a statement on Wednesday. “And I have instructed the Statewide Prosecutor to work with law enforcement and any Statewide Grand Jury that the Governor may call."

While she does not explicitly call for an investigation into Bloomberg himself, her letter to the two agencies cites a Washington Post article on his involvement. She said that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked her to review the matter.

Florida voters passed a measure in 2018 to restore voting rights to felons who have not been convicted of murder or sexual offenses and who had completed their sentences. Republicans in the state legislature responded by passing a law in 2019 requiring those felons to pay any outstanding fines and fees to consider their sentence complete. Voting rights groups sued over the law, comparing it to a poll tax, but an appeals court earlier this month ruled the law was constitutional.

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

Bloomberg spokesman Jason Schechter responded to the pushback by saying, "This transparent political ploy is just the latest example of Republicans attempting to keep Floridians disenfranchised."

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., first raised the possibility of an investigation into the effort in an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity on Tuesday night, saying he believed the attorney general may have been looking into it already.

"It is a felony [under Florida statute] for someone to either directly or indirectly offer something of value to impact whether or not someone votes," Gaetz told Fox News. "You have the question of whether or not paying someone restitution and court costs constitutes something of value."

"The next step is to determine whether or not this is intended whether or not someone votes," Gaetz added.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Participating donors for Bloomberg’s partnership with the coalition include artist John Legend, Twitter CEO John Dorsey and Susan Buffett. Legend reached out to his own network for donors, working closely with Bloomberg’s efforts. The former presidential candidate has not personally contributed to the coalition.

Bloomberg separately pledged $100 million in to help former Vice President Joe Biden in Florida, earlier this month.

Florida will be a closely watched battleground in the upcoming November election after President Donald Trump narrowly won the state by less than 113,000 votes in 2016. The latest statewide polls show Biden and Trump, who are both aggressively campaigning there, locked in a dead heat.