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Rep. Matt Gaetz calls for investigation after Bloomberg raises millions to help Florida felons pay debts

Bloomberg is part of an effort to raise more than $20 million to help Florida felons who have completed their sentences pay off debts to regain the right to vote.
Credit: AP

The same day Democratic billionaire and former presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg pledged to help Florida felons pay off their debts to regain the right to vote, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) called for a probe into Bloomberg's efforts.

Appearing on Fox News with Sean Hannity and then Fox Business with Maria Bartiromo, Gaetz said he spoke to Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and that "a criminal probe may already be underway."

Gaetz cited Chapter 104.061 of Florida law, which bars "corruptly influencing voting." 

"Whoever by bribery, menace, threat, or other corruption whatsoever, either directly or indirectly, attempts to influence, deceive, or deter any elector in voting...commits a felony of the third degree," the law reads.

RELATED: Bloomberg raises millions to help Florida felons vote

The statute also bars anyone from giving or promising "anything of value to another intending thereby to buy that person's or another's vote."

On Fox, Gaetz said the question is, "whether or not paying someone's restitution or court costs counts as something of value."

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody followed suit calling for further investigation of the efforts under the allegation they are potentially a violation of election laws. 

"Today, I sent a letter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation into potential violations of election laws. And I have instructed the Statewide Prosecutor to work with law enforcement and any Statewide Grand Jury that the Governor may call," Moody wrote.

Bloomberg's is part of an effort that raised more than $20 million to help felons in Florida – who have completed their sentences – pay off restitution and court debts to be able to vote in the November election. That effort is in addition to the $100 million Bloomberg pledged to help Joe Biden win Florida, a crucial state with 29 electoral college votes that President Donald Trump hopes will keep him in the White House for another four years.

RELATED: Here's why advocates are registering felons to vote even after court ruling didn't go in their favor

The fight over felon disenfranchisement in Florida has been going on since 2018 when voters overwhelmingly approved the state's Amendment 4, which allows felons who've served the terms of their sentence to regain the right to vote.

A year later, the state's Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill stipulating that "all terms" included all legal financial obligations.

A federal appeals court on Sept. 11 ruled the Florida felons must pay all fines, restitution and legal fees before they can vote.

RELATED: Florida felons can't vote until they pay fines, court rules

With Bloomberg's help, the Florida Rights Restitution Council is raising millions, targeted for felons who registered to vote while the law was in question and who owe $1,500 or less. Bloomberg advisers say that accounts for about 31,100 people.

Gaetz said Bloomberg's efforts amount to "cherry-picking votes" and that the former New York City mayor is "engaged in bribery and vote-buying of a specific segment."

"They're specifically targeting African Americans," Gaetz said. "Because they believe, in Florida, African Americans will vote 90-95 percent for Joe Biden."

"The law is clear this is something of value," Gaetz said.

The Washington Post first reported about a memo that details Bloomberg's intentions. Bloomberg saw fundraising for felons' debts "as a more cost-effective way of adding votes to the Democratic column" than investing in those who already have the right to vote, the Post reported.

The Post also spoke to a Bloomberg advisor on the condition of anonymity.

The adviser said Bloomberg "wanted to get this done...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."

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