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Former 2020 Presidential Candidate, Michael Bloomberg has raised $16.1 million to pay off fines for felons in the state of Florida. Today, the Florida Attorney General, Ashley Moody asked the FBI to investigate because it provides “something of value” that may impact one’s vote.

Steve Cannon/AP

In November of 2018, Florida voters approved Amendment 4, which allowed felons in Florida who have served their time to regain their right to vote. However, in order to vote again, they must pay off all outstanding fines and fees. In April of 2019, Republicans passed the Voting Rights Restoration bill. HB 7089, passed the GOP-led House in a 71-45 vote. That bill added preconditions requiring the payment of all outstanding fines to regain voting rights. Justice Sotomayor later dissented in a Supreme Court brief to uphold the law.

NBC News reports that “the initiative combines funds raised by Bloomberg in the past week from prominent individuals and foundations with $5 million raised by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to target 32,000 felons in Florida who are already registered to vote and owe less than $1,500 as part of their restitution.”

The Sunshine State is an important battleground for minority votes. So it is interesting that Bloomberg chose this state to focus his funding. Bloomberg asserts that his motivation is to end “disenfranchisement and discrimination” and that “the right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right…”

Bloomberg was also transparent in his statement about adding votes. “A memo from the Bloomberg team obtained Tuesday by The New York Post, explained that the billionaire businessman saw the 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 money comes from fundraising and foundations, not from his personal checkbook.

However, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has a different take on the issue. In a recent Hannity interview, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) “[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.” Today Gaetz’ tweeted, “Michael Bloomberg is creating a politically motivated way to retire the debts of felons in exchange for their votes. But it’s not every felon. It’s just those that have been specifically identified as Biden voters.” 

The 2020 Election portends to be fraught with challenges, especially in swing states like Florida. Voter fraud and other questionable tactics, in the form of ballot harvesting and mass mail-in votes, have been the topic of many a tweet by President Trump as far back as 2012. Even Presidential hopeful Biden “spent decades warning of voter fraud.” Just today, Kaleigh McEnany announced that nine military mail-in ballots for President Trump were found discarded in Pennsylvania.

Josh Sidorowicz of WSTP tweeted AG Moody’s letter to the FBI. She states that “after preliminarily reviewing this public information and law, it appears further investigation is warranted. Accordingly, I request that your agencies investigate this matter and take appropriate steps as merited.” It still isn’t clear whether this is criminal behavior.

A recent tweet by Danny Rivero states that an unnamed circuit judge agreed that there may be a major distinction “between paying to help someone become eligible to vote and paying someone to vote.” And, as Lawrence Mower points out in his tweet, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition that targets felons in Florida has been “collecting money to pay fines/fees for over a year.”

The election headwinds are brisk, especially in swing states. This decision, whether criminal or not, may help the Democrats gain voters in the November election.