Michael Bloomberg raises millions of dollars to help Florida ex-cons vote
Just days after after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis won a court victory to keep felons from voting until they’ve paid off fines, restitution and court fees, billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg has stepped in to help them erase the debts.
The former Democratic presidential candidate and mayor of New York has helped raise more than $20 million so that felons who completed their prison sentences can vote in the presidential election. Bloomberg also has pledged $100 million to help Democratic nominee Joe Biden win Florida.
“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,” Bloomberg said in a written statement.
A federal appellate court ruled Sept. 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 election. Florida has 29 electoral college votes that are crucial to President 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 their voting rights restored. Republican lawmakers then moved to define what it means to complete a sentence.
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.
Ex-felons in Florida had their right to vote restored through Amendment 4. Within months, Florida’s Legislature tried to limit the effect of the initiative.
The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition had raised about $5 million before Bloomberg made calls to raise almost $17 million more, according to Bloomberg staffers.
The money is earmarked 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.
“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.”
The group said other donors include John Legend, basketball stars LeBron James and Michael Jordan, MTV, Comedy Central, VH1, Ben & Jerry’s, Levi Strauss & Co., the Miami Dolphins, the Orlando Magic, the Miami Heat and Steven Spielberg.
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