(The Center Square) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has requested Attorney General Ashley Moody investigate how Michael Bloomberg’s political organization raised $17 million to pay fines and fees for 31,100 felons so they can vote in the Nov. 3 election.
“I have instructed the statewide prosecutor to work with law enforcement and any statewide grand jury that the governor may call,” Moody said.
Moody also asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and federal law enforcement agencies to probe allegations Bloomberg and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) violated the law by offering incentives for voting.
“After preliminarily reviewing this limited public information and law, it appears further investigation is warranted,” Moody wrote Wednesday. “Accordingly, I request your agencies further investigate this matter and take appropriate steps as merited.”
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis also requested the Florida Elections Commission determine whether Bloomberg is “trying to illegally influence the outcome of Florida’s election.”
“Reports that the failed presidential candidate is spending tens-of-millions of dollars on restitution for certain registered voters doesn’t smell right to me,” Patronis said. “Clearly, Bloomberg is using his money and power to tilt the upcoming election in November. If he wants to make a political donation, there’s a process but hiding behind voting rights groups appears to circumvent Florida law.”
Bloomberg, the former Republican New York City mayor and Democratic 2020 presidential candidate, announced Monday his political organization raised at least $17 million to pay court fines for felons, allowing them to vote Nov. 3.
The money is being directed to the FRRC, which had raised about $5 million to pay felons’ fines before Bloomberg raised between $17 million and $20 million.
Nearly 65 percent of Florida voters in November 2018 approved Amendment 4, which restored voting rights for ex-felons, excluding those convicted of murder and sexual assault, after “completing sentences.”
During the 2019 legislative session, the Legislature adopted Senate Bill 7066 as “enabling legislation,” which interpreted “completing sentences” to mean paying all legal obligations, including court fees, fines and restitution.
SB 7066 was challenged in a legal battle that culminated in May when U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle declared SB 7066 unconstitutional.
In a Sept. 11 ruling, the U.S. 11th Circuit upheld SB 7066, however. The case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The FRRC is allocating the money to felons who owe $1,500 or less, particularly those among the 80,000-plus felons who registered before September’s ruling.
FRRC President Desmond Meade said Tuesday the FRRC does not care what party felons register in.
On Fox News on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, claimed the FRRC is seeking only “those they have specifically identified as the Biden voters. That’s offering a bribe, an inducement, for someone to behave a certain way in voting.”
That claim since has been repeated by Florida U.S. Sen Rick Scott, who, appearing on Fox Business on Wednesday morning, said Bloomberg’s fundraising – and the $100 million he donated last week to the Florida Democratic Party – won’t affect November’s outcome.
“If money bought elections, Mike Bloomberg would be the Democratic nominee (for president),” said Scott, who spent millions winning self-funded campaigns for Florida governor and a U.S. Senate seat.
With the state’s Oct. 5 registration deadline nearing and Florida county elections officials mailing Nov. 3 ballots to voters, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called the state’s reaction a “ploy.”
“Florida 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,” she said. “Whether Mike Bloomberg, John Legend or Lebron James, these are contributions made legally.”