Florida AG Defends Investigation Into Bloomberg Paying Felons’ Fines

September 24, 2020 Updated: September 24, 2020

Florida’s attorney general on Sept. 23 asked state and federal law enforcement to investigate possible election law violations after billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a former Democratic presidential candidate, helped raise more than $16 million for Florida felons to pay debts so they can vote in the upcoming election.

On Sept. 24, state Attorney General Ashley Moody told Fox News that a memo from Bloomberg about the initiative raised concerns.

“When you look at the memo and what was alleged, when you hear words like we need to get this done, investing money to target a particular group of voters that may be predisposed to vote a certain way, that raises concerns that you are directly influencing or even indirectly giving money to persuade votes to go a certain way,” Moody, who is a Republican, told the network.

“That doesn’t matter what party it is that triggers Florida law. Under Florida law, you cannot directly or indirectly give anything of value to persuade or entice a vote.”

The memo that was obtained by The Washington Post read: “We know to win Florida we will need to persuade, motivate and add new votes to the Biden column. … This means we need to explore all avenues for finding the needed votes when so many votes are already determined.”

President Donald Trump told the “Brian Kilmeade Show” on Sept. 24 that what Bloomberg has done is “totally illegal.”

Earlier this week, Moody announced she sent letters to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI, saying the move should be investigated.

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

In her letter, Moody said Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked her to look into the effort.

“After preliminary reviewing of the limited public information and law, it appears further investigation is warranted,” Moody wrote in a letter to law enforcement, citing news reports about Bloomberg’s efforts.

A 2018 state constitutional amendment allows for felons who have finished their sentences to regain their right to vote. But they first have to pay any outstanding fines, fees, or restitution. Murderers and sex offenders didn’t regain the right to vote.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis And Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez Hold Coronavirus Briefing
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Fla., on July 13, 2020. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

State CFO Jimmy Patronis on Sept. 23 also called for an inquiry into Bloomberg’s effort and asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether the former New York City mayor is “breaking the law by giving direct cash for voters.”

“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 Sept. 22 after his efforts were announced.

Bloomberg spokesman Jason Schechter told news outlets that Moody’s letter is a “transparent political ploy [and] 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 matter, telling Fox News that it could be a form of bribery.

“It’s not every felon. It’s just those which they have specifically identified as the Biden voters,” Gaetz said on Fox News. “That’s offering a bribe, an inducement, for someone to behave a certain way in voting.”