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Mike Bloomberg Tried To Pay Fines So That Florida Felons Can Vote, Now Florida Might Investigate

Mike Bloomberg stands at a podium.

In July, we rereported on how the Supreme Court declined an emergency hearing on a Florida law that would allow felons to vote, but only if they paid their outstanding legal fines. Now, as the election approaches and Florida remains the largest toss-up prize in the electoral college, the situation has become even more complex and political. The latest event includes Florida representative Matt Gaetz accusing former presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg of multiple felonies.

Let’s rewind. In 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4, which would allow most felons to regain the right to vote. Not all, since it excluded those who had committed serious violent crimes, but most. It passed with 65% of the vote. But Florida, being Florida and generally Republican-controlled, didn’t want people to vote so they added the restriction that these felons would have to pay bay outstanding fines and restitution to be allowed to vote.

For one thing, that’s a poll tax, which is not okay under the Constitution, and for another, Florida didn’t have a system in place to track all of this. Cue the lawsuit. A district judge made a preliminary ruling that the fee payment requirement was not okay and issued a stay on its enforcement. But the 11th circuit court of appeals reversed it. In July, the Supreme Court declined to reverse that and keep the stay in place.

Amendment 4 and the general fight for voting rights for Florida felons have been spearheaded by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. When faced with felons still being denied the vote because of their fines, they began fundraising for a program to help people play those fines and fees. They have set an ambitious goal of $25 million, but they got a big help in getting there thanks to former New York Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg raised over $16 million to help pay these fines. Objectively that’s great, but we do have to pause here and say … raised? You raised, $16 million, Mike? Your net worth is, according to google, $54.9 billion. $16 mill is pocket change to you. In fact, you could have personally made up the $9 million shortfalls here without blinking.

But I digress.

Letting felons vote is a good thing for democracy, so of course, Republicans hate it. That includes Republicans like Trump sycophant and talking piece of underdone toast, Matt Gaetz. Gaetz, who famously wore a mocking gas mask on the House floor to vote on the coronavirus response bill, “represents” Florida in Congress. He hopped on Trump’s second-favorite propaganda platform, Fox News, to call on the Florida AG to investigate Bloomberg for essentially buying votes. “It is a third degree felony for someone to either directly or indirectly provide something of value to impact whether or not someone votes,” Gaetz claimed.

And of course, the monkeys danced, and Florida’s Republican AG sent a letter to federal and state law enforcement asking them to investigate. Shocking. But it might not go well, since it is, as Bloomberg himself described it, a “transparent political ploy” that’s “just the latest example of Republicans attempting to keep Floridians disenfranchised.”

Legally, Gaetz and the GOP have a really bad argument here. When the state argued for the fines and fees in court, one of their points in support of this not being a poll tax was that other people could just pay the fines for them, which is exactly what Bloomberg and Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is trying to do.

The bottom line is that Florida Republicans and Republicans, in general, don’t want people voting. They just don’t. Because when real people vote for their real interests, Republicans lose, so they feel the need to cheat and disenfranchise. And the only way to stop them is, sadly, voting in such numbers that they can’t cheat.

(via: NPR, image: George Frey/Getty Images)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.