Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody on Wednesday requested an investigation into $16 million in donations to felon prisoners made by billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
In a letter to the special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Tampa and the commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Moody said that a preliminary review of public information by her office suggests that a further inquiry is required.
Bloomberg donated $16 million to a group that is paying off felon prisoners’ debts so that they can legally vote in the election on Nov. 3.
“After preliminarily reviewing this limited public information and law, it appears further investigation is warranted,” Moody wrote. “Accordingly, I request that your agencies further investigate the matter and take appropriate steps as merited.”
The letter cites a statement from the Florida Department of State Division of Elections that says “even otherwise innocuous offering of an incentive simply to vote could run afoul” of the law “depending on the circumstances.”
The former Democratic presidential candidate has helped raise more than $20 million so that felons who completed their prison sentences can vote in the upcoming presidential election. Bloomberg also has pledged $100 million to help Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win Florida.
“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 written statement.
A federal appellate court ruled on Sept. 11 that, in addition to serving their sentences, Florida felons must pay all fines, restitution, and legal fees before they can regain their right to vote. The case could have broad implications for the November elections. Florida has 29 electoral college votes that are crucial for President Donald Trump’s hopes of staying in the White House.
Under Amendment 4, which Florida voters passed overwhelmingly in 2018, felons who have completed their sentences would have their voting rights restored. Republican lawmakers then moved to define what it means to complete a sentence.
In addition to prison time served, lawmakers directed that all legal financial obligations, including unpaid fines and restitution, would also have to be settled before a felon could be eligible to vote.
The Florida Rights Restitution Coalition had raised about $5 million before Bloomberg made calls to raise almost $17 million more, according to Bloomberg staffers.
The money is targeted for felons who registered to vote while the law was in question and who owe $1,500 or less. That accounts for about 31,100 people, the staffers said. In a state that decided the 2000 presidential election by 537 votes, these votes could be critical in a year when polls show Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in a dead heat.
Organizers for the group say they aren’t targeting people registered with a particular political party.
The group said that other donors include John Legend, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, Ben & Jerry’s, Levi Strauss & Co., the Miami Dolphins, the Orlando Magic, the Miami Heat, and Stephen Spielberg.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.