Rep. Matt Gaetz has called for a criminal investigation into billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who paid off $20 million in debt for more than 31,000 convicted felons in Florida so that they can vote in November.
Bloomberg, who is worth more than $50 billion, raised more than $20 million to pay off fines, court fees and restitution for felons, and pledged another $100 million to help Joe Biden win Florida.
‘I believe there may be a criminal investigation already underway of the Bloomberg-connected activities in Florida,’ Gaetz told Fox News host Sean Hannity, accusing the former Democrat presidential candidate of attempting to buy off votes for Biden.
Gaetz said that he had already contacted Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, to urge her to investigate whether the scheme violates Florida law.
‘[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,’ Gaetz explained. ‘So the question is whether or not paying off someone’s fines and legal obligations counts as something of value, and it clearly does.’
Rep. Matt Gaetz has called for a criminal investigation into billionaire Mike Bloomberg, accusing him of buying votes in a scheme to pay off the debts of Florida felons
Bloomberg, who is worth more than $50 billion, said on Tuesday that he had raised more than $20 million to pay off fines, court fees and restitution for felons to enable them to vote
Gaetz called on Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (left) to investigate the scheme
Convicted felons in Florida are seen celebrating Amendment 4, a measure that will allow them to vote, by holding up four fingers in Miami last month
‘If Michael Bloomberg was offering to pay off people’s credit card debt,’ Gaetz added, ‘you would obviously see the value in that.’
‘[W]hen you improve someone’s net worth by eliminating their financial liabilities, that’s something of value,’ he went on.
‘Normally, it would be very difficult to prove that that was directly linked to impacting whether or not someone was going to vote. But they literally wrote their own admission.’
According to the Washington Post, Bloomberg wrote in a memo about the scheme: ‘We have identified a significant vote share that requires a nominal investment.’
‘The data shows that in Florida, Black voters are a unique universe unlike any other voting bloc, where the Democratic support rate tends to be 90%-95%,’ the memo continued.
Gaetz said in a separate interview with Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs: ‘This is a specific inducement, to a specific segment of voters, to get them to vote in a certain way, and I think it could be a crime.’
The former Democratic presidential candidate stepped in to help felons who have completed their prison sentences so they can vote on November 3. Two convicted felons are seen registering to vote
Bloomberg said in a statement: ‘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.’
‘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,’ the statement added.
A Bloomberg adviser told the Washington Post: ‘Mike wanted to get this done for two reasons. One, because it’s the right thing to do for the democracy. And two, because it immediately activates tens of thousands of voters who are predisposed to vote for Joe Biden.’
The move comes just days after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis won a court victory to keep felons from voting until they’ve paid off fines, restitution and court fees.
A federal appellate court ruled on September 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 to 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 voting rights restored. Republican lawmakers then moved to define what it means to complete a sentence.
Convicted felon Yraida Guanipa reacts after she registered to vote at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department office in Miami, Florida on January 8, 2019
Clarence Singleton, who has a felony on his record, registered to vote at the Lee County Supervisor of Elections office on January 8, 2019, in Fort Myers, Florida
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, that could be critical in a year when polls show Trump and Biden in a dead heat.
Organizers for the group say they aren’t targeting people registered with a particular political party.
‘To hell with politics, to hell with any other implications or insinuations, at the end of the day it’s about real people, real lives, American citizens who want to be a part of this,’ said Desmond Meade, the group’s executive director.
‘People with felony convictions have had their voices silenced for so long,’ Meade added.
The group said 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.