Florida’s attorney general is calling for a probe into billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s fundraising of nearly $20m to help convicted felons vote in the key swing state.
Attorney General Ashley Moody said she was asked by Governor Ron DeSantis, an ally of US President Donald Trump, to look into the donations, Politico reported on Thursday.
Moody wrote in a letter to Michael McPherson, the FBI special agent in charge of the bureau’s Tampa office, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Richard Swearingen that “further investigation” was warranted after an initial review of the funding announcement.
“Accordingly, I request that your agencies further investigate the matter and take appropriate steps as merited”, Moody said in the letter.
Florida voters in 2018 overwhelmingly voted to change the state’s constitution to overturn a lifetime ban on voting for most convicts. However, the Republican-controlled Florida state legislature later passed a law requiring that felons pay any outstanding legal fees before they regain their right to vote.
It is estimated this could block almost 800,000 people – the majority Black or Latino – from voting.
“This transparent political ploy is just the latest example of Republicans attempting to keep Floridians disenfranchised,” said Jason Schechter, a spokesperson for Bloomberg, in a statement.
Bloomberg has separately pledged millions of dollars geared towards rallying Latino voters in Florida, saying, “[They] will play a critical role in the election.
“President Trump has fueled division in our country including through his relentless attacks on the Hispanic community,” said Bloomberg, 78, an independent who has thrown his financial weight behind Democratic nominee Joe Biden after a dismal run for the presidency earlier this year.
On Fox & Friends, the Florida Attorney General accuses Michael Bloomberg of breaking election law by paying former felons' court fines & restitutions, so they can regain their voting rights. The state of Florida has consistently fought to keep ex-felons disenfranchised. pic.twitter.com/54DDeJ9C4M
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) September 24, 2020
The pro-Biden organisation “Priorities USA” said on Thursday that Bloomberg had given it $6m to campaign among the Latino electorate, a group that, in Florida, often skews right given the strong presence of anti-Communist voters of Cuban origin.
That sum is a small part of the $100m the media mogul said he was ready to spend in the southeastern state, which is home to more than 21 million people.
On Wednesday, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition – an organisation working to re-enfranchise former convicts – said it had received some $20m, much of it raised by Bloomberg’s network, to help previously incarcerated citizens pay fines and fees to re-establish their rights to vote.
According to The New York Times, Bloomberg raised $16m of that sum.
Bloomberg’s foray into the Florida campaign seems to have angered many Republicans in the state with 29 vital Electoral College votes.
For years, Florida has been a key state in US presidential votes: Victory margins are often within less than a percentage point, and Bloomberg’s move to help former felons could play a decisive role.
Recent polling has suggested Trump needs to win the state to stay in power.