Rep. Matt Gaetz: Bloomberg may face criminal probe for paying felons’ fines

Rep. Matt Gaetz: Bloomberg may face criminal probe for paying felons’ fines

September 23, 2020

Rep. Matt Gaetz warned billionaire Michael Bloomberg that he may be facing a criminal probe for paying the outstanding fines and fees of 32,000 convicted felons in Florida so they could regain their right to vote ahead of the November election.

Speaking to Fox News’ “Hannity” Tuesday evening, Gaetz (R-Fla.) said that he had spoken to Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody prior to his appearance on the show about Bloomberg’s voter effort in the sunshine state.

On Tuesday, it was reported that the former NYC mayor had raised over $16 million for, and donated $5 million to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

Bloomberg’s push would benefit ex-cons as part of a 2018 state constitutional amendment allowing felons who have served their time to regain their right to vote.

Before they can regain that right, however, they need to pay any fines, fees or restitution.

In a statement to Axios, a representative for Bloomberg said, “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.”

To Gaetz and Moody, however, there are legal concerns regarding Bloomberg’s political spending in this specific case.

“I believe there may be a criminal investigation already underway of the Bloomberg-connected activities in Florida,” Gaetz told Sean Hannity.

“[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. So the question is whether or not paying off someone’s fines and legal obligations counts as something of value, and it clearly does. If Michael Bloomberg was offering to pay off people’s credit card debts, you would obviously see the value in that.

“When you improve someone’s net worth by eliminating their financial liabilities, that’s something of value. 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,” the Florida Republican argued, referencing a Washington Post report.

A memo from the Bloomberg team, obtained Tuesday by the newspaper, explained that the the billionaire businessman saw the effort as “a more cost-effective way of adding votes to the Democratic column than investing money to persuade voters who already have the right to vote.”

“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 read.

Gaetz argued that the memo helped prove that this could be viewed as bribery.

“The law is clear, this is something of value, and I am encouraged after my conversation with the attorney general. I hope we have good law enforcement all over the country looking for the cheating and the tricks that these Democrats are going to try in this election,” he told the network.

In addition to the millions that Bloomberg delivered to helping felons regain their right to vote, the one-time presidential candidate announced a $100 million push for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in the state earlier this month.

When announcing the move, Bloomberg adviser Kevin Sheekey argued that it was beneficial to other swing states as well.

“Voting starts on Sept. 24 in Florida so the need to inject real capital in that state quickly is an urgent need. Mike believes that by investing in Florida it will allow campaign resources and other Democratic resources to be used in other states, in particular the state of Pennsylvania,” Sheekey, who served as campaign manager during Bloomberg’s 2020 run, said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Bloomberg could not immediately be reached for comment.

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