Michael Bloomberg is ruffling feathers in the Sunshine State. According to reports, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is calling for an investigation into a fundraising effort backed by the former New York City mayor that is helping restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated ahead of November’s general election.
Bloomberg, who ended an unsuccessful bid for the White House earlier this year, has partnered with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) to raise upwards of $16 million. The purpose of the fundraiser is to pay off legal fees for the formerly incarcerated whose ability to vote is restricted due to outstanding restitution fees.
According to NBC News, Moody was contacted about the fundraiser by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis who took a particular interest in it after a Washington Post article stated that Bloomberg, who raised the money from supportive individuals and foundations, was involved in the effort to restore voting rights to nearly 32,000 Black and Hispanic Florida voters with prior convictions. That prompted Moody to send a letter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into any potential violations of election laws.
Moody claims the offer to pay a modern-day poll tax for Black and Brown voters could “be offered to a voter in a way that would be designed to directly or indirectly cause the voter or a larger group of voters to vote in a particular matter.” Per Florida statutes, it’s illegal to “directly or indirectly give or promise anything of value to another in casting his or her vote,” Moody continued.
In 2018, Florida voters passed a measure that allowed for the restoration of voting rights for formerly incarcerated individuals who had not been convicted of murder or sexual offenses. Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, along with members of the state clemency board, voted unanimously to allow the formerly incarcerated to apply for the restoration of their civil rights, which includes voting, even if they haven’t fulfilled financial obligations such as restitution or other court fines. At the time, Desmond Meade, executive director of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, told ESSENCE, “Today is a small step in the right direction, but more needs to be done.”
Last week, six judges — five of which are Trump appointees and Barbara Lagoa, whose on Trump’s shortlist to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg — ruled that voters who have been convicted of felonies must pay court debts before having their civic right reinstated. The Jim Crow-esque decision is why FRRC is fighting even harder to meet the needs of returning citizens.
In a statement shared with ESSENCE ahead of FRRC’s “VoteTeenth” day of action, the grassroots organization said it’s time to free the vote from “democracy deniers.” They remain “dedicated to ending the disenfranchisement and discrimination against people with convictions” and are intent on making sure that every citizen can participate in democracy.