Florida’s attorney general has called on the FBI and state law enforcement to probe potential violations of election law after billionaire Michael Bloomberg raised $16 million to help felons in the state become eligible to vote.
State AG Ashley Moody penned a letter to federal and state police agencies on Wednesday, stating that “further investigation is warranted” after a preliminary review of Bloomberg’s voting initiative, which helped to fundraise millions to pay off court fines for some 32,000 felons in order to qualify them to vote under Florida law.
“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. “I have instructed the Statewide Prosecutor to work with law enforcement and any Statewide Grand Jury that the Governor may call.”
Florida’s top 3 Republicans —Gov DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and CFO Jimmy Patronis — are asking for outside investigations into billionaire Mike Bloomberg helping to raise at least $16M to pay off felon fines/fees/etc so they can vote. AG wants FDLE & FBI in… pic.twitter.com/4QfeLMUazQ
According to a Bloomberg memo cited by the Washington Post on Tuesday, the expansive effort aims to boost support for Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden, raising large sums of money to fund a program organized by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), a local NGO. Though most Florida felons who have served out their sentences have been permitted to vote since 2018, state law requires them to pay off all outstanding court fees before they can do so, which the FRRC donations will finance.
The Bloomberg memo honed in on particular demographics, citing data indicating that in Florida, a key battleground state, “black voters are a unique universe unlike any other voting bloc, where the Democratic support rate tends to be 90%-95%.” It also suggested potential Hispanic voters would disproportionately back Biden.
News of the billionaire media mogul’s fundraising project was met with suspicion from some Republican lawmakers, with Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz – a member of the House Judiciary Committee – telling Fox’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday that the effort may run afoul of state election 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,” he argued. “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 hailed Moody’s decision to request a probe into the donations, thanking the AG and insisting “Bloomberg’s billions will not buy Florida.”
Bloomberg’s billions will not buy Florida. Thank you @AGAshleyMoody for taking bold action to ensure that Florida’s elections remain fair. https://t.co/gvj8mT7cnI
While Florida election statutes do include language stating that “Any person who gives anything of value that is redeemable in cash to any person in consideration for his or her becoming a registered voter commits a felony of the third degree,” it is unclear how the law will apply to the FRRC’s payments toward felons’ court debts.
Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only Democratic statewide elected official, blasted Moody’s letter in a statement, arguing that the donations were “made legally” and that “Republicans will stop at nothing to prevent people from voting, and this is another ploy to suppress the voices of those trying to regain their right to vote.”
Though Biden has maintained a lead over President Donald Trump in Florida for some time, recent polling has placed the two virtually neck and neck, putting the former VP only four points ahead. It remains to be seen whether Bloomberg’s efforts to mobilize thousands of ex-cons behind Biden will widen that gap, particularly if the initiative is deemed illegal in the forthcoming probe.
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