Florida’s Attorney General has called for a criminal inquiry into Mike Bloomberg, the former New York City Mayor and onetime presidential candidate, who is using his massive fortune to assist recently-released felons regain their right to vote in Florida.
For decades, Florida law permanently disenfranchised convicted felons, even after their sentences ended. The policy was a relic of Jim Crow, disproportionately denying Black Floridians of the right to vote, even when they had served their full sentence. In 2018, however, Florida voters overwhelmingly backed a constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 4, which gave the right to vote back to convicted felons who had done their time. But Amendment 4 was immediately obstructed by the Florida Republican Party.
Soon after its passage, Gov. Ron DeSantis, a loyal ally of President Trump’s, signed a law that prohibits former felons from voting until they pay off all fees and fines related to their sentence. In other words, even after these Floridians fulfill their sentences, if they owe any money to the state, they are forbidden from voting. The ACLU and other activist groups have blasted the political maneuver, which they view as a clear attempt to disenfranchise Floridians even after the public voted to give them their right to vote.
Appeal and Financial Aid
In their appeal, the ACLU argued that requiring former felons to pay fines to the state in order to gain their right to vote was tantamount to a poll tax, which the U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits. But earlier this month, a federal appeals court upheld the Florida government’s right to require those residents to pay off their debts before voting. In their case, the state argued that if certain former felons could not afford to pay off their debts, others could pay on their behalf.
Wasting no time, Desmond Meade, the leader of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, went to work in raising funds to assist disenfranchised felons. “We’ve helped over 4,000 people be able to satisfy their legal financial obligation” Meade told NPR. “And what we’ve seen so far is an average of about $1,000 per person.”
Thus Mike Bloomberg’s involvement. This week, the New York billionaire signed onto the campaign, and helped the coalition raise $16 million. The massive donation helps the group approach its $25 million goal before October 5, the deadline for voter registration in Florida. But state Republicans are now raising questions about Bloomberg’s involvement.
Congressman Matt Gaetz, another Florida ally of President Trump’s, called for an investigation of Bloomberg during a Fox News appearance this week. “It is a third degree felony for someone to either directly or indirectly provide something of value to impact whether or not someone votes,” Gaetz said.
Subsequently, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, sent a letter to the FBI and State Dept. of Law Enforcement requesting an investigation. But a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg called the inquiry a “transparent political ploy” that’s “just the latest example of Republicans attempting to keep Floridians disenfranchised.”
Meanwhile, the ACLU has pointed at the state’s own argument during their appeal. “I’m surprised to hear now that third parties who are generously willing to pay people’s outstanding legal financial obligations, suddenly they’re being accused of a crime for doing exactly what the state suggested was perfectly legitimate,” said ACLU attorney Julia Ebenstein.
The ACLU and other parties have not yet decided whether they would appeal the Amendment 4 case to the Supreme Court.