Update (1815ET): Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has called on the state's Attorney General to investigate Bloomberg for "Potentially Engaging In Bribery And Vote Buying."
#BREAKING: I'm calling on the Florida Attorney General to launch an investigation into @MikeBloomberg for potentially engaging in bribery and vote buying in the state of Florida. pic.twitter.com/2pAjZlAwSh— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) September 22, 2020
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Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg - who has committed at least $100 million in Florida towards electing Joe Biden, has raised another $16 million to pay the court fines and fees of nearly 32,000 Black and Hispanic felons so that they can vote in the November election.
The money will go towards a program organized by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. By state law, former prisoners who are already registered to vote in Florida are barred from participating in the election if they have outstanding legal debts to the state, according to the Washington Post.
Bloomberg has raised money from both individuals and foundations, according to his advisers. The billionaire views the donations as a more cost-effective way of adding Democratic voters in Florida than investing money to persuade non-felons to change their vote, according to a memo.
"We have identified a significant vote share that requires a nominal investment," it reads. "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 also notes that Biden is currently polling worse among Cuban American voters than Hillary Clinton did in 2016, while other Hispanic groups are in favor of Biden by a margin of 3 to 1.
Florida voters passed a statewide constitutional amendment in 2018 that gave former felons, except those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses, the opportunity to vote in upcoming elections. The Republican-controlled legislature subsequently passed, and the Republican governor signed, a law that conditioned their return to the voting rolls on the payment of all fees, fines and restitution that were part of their sentence.
The Republican effort is expected to limit the political benefit to Democrats of the constitutional change, which passed by ballot initiative with 65 percent support. A study by the University of Florida found that nearly 775,000 former felons still owed money related to their convictions and would be barred from the voting booth by the law. The vast majority are too poor to pay their outstanding debts, according to evidence presented in court documents challenging the law. -Washington Post
Beyond Bloomberg, several philanthropic groups have poured money into paying off debts owed by felons - including a nonprofit founded by LeBron James. Bloomberg's effort, meanwhile, is "narrowly focused only on Black and Hispanic voters" whose debts are less than $1,500.
"Mike wanted to get this done for two reasons," a Bloomberg adviser told the Post. "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 Bloomberg memo pointed out that the 31,790 targeted voters, including 25,548 who are Black, are nearly equivalent to the margin by which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won election in 2018, and about three times as big as the margin that elected Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) that same year.
It said Florida voters have largely already made up their minds about the November election, leaving “only a small margin of voters that are targets for persuasion.” -Washington Post
"We know to win Florida we will need to persuade, motivate and add new votes to the Biden column," reads the document. "This means we need to explore all avenues for finding the needed votes when so many votes are already determined."