BILLIONAIRE former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg raised more than $16 million to pay the fines, fees, and restitution of roughly 31,000 convicted felons in Florida to restore their voting rights in advance of the 2020 general election.
Bloomberg’s donation added to the $5 million that was raised by the nonpartisan voting rights advocacy group Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to allow criminals due to come back into society to be able to vote.
The exact monetary amounts for each convicted felon have not been independently verified, yet the act itself has come against fierce opposition.
While the donations are in no way illegal and do not equate to electoral fraud, moral questions have been raised over whether it is right to allow criminals to avoid paying back fines and fees ordered by courts, often payable to their victims by way of a punishment and restitution.
“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,” said Bloomberg, who publicly endorsed the organisation in a statement.
Under federal law, convicted offenders may be ordered to reimburse victims for financial losses due to their crime in a process that is called restitution. During sentencing, a judge may order the felon to pay for lost income, property damage, medical, or funeral expenses, among other things. Up until 2018, Florida was one of four states where convicted felons did not regain their right to vote after fulfilling all requirements of their sentencing unless specifically restored by a state officer or board. (The three other states are Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia.)
In September 2020, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which presides over Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, ruled to uphold the law that the voting rights of felons could only be restored if they pay all fines, fees, and restitution owed to the government after some sued arguing that the amendment violated the Constitution.
In order to reinstate the voting rights of convicted felons who still owe money to the government, the FRRC launched its Fines and Fees Program, an initiative that raises money to pay restitution for convicted felons so that they can complete all conditions of their prison sentence and have their voting rights restored. The average amount owed is $1,000 per person, according to the FRRC.
“These donations will pay the fines and fees of tens of thousands of returning citizens so they will be eligible to vote and participate in this November’s election,” wrote the organisation.
The purported bailout spurred contempt from Republican leaders who argue that paying off felons’ debt could be considered potential bribery. In a Sept. 27 tweet, U.S. President Donald Trump accused Bloomberg of bribery, adding that he “committed a serious crime.”
However, the bailouts cannot be labelled as a bribe, as those in receipt of them were not told who to vote for, and as many are predicted to have voted for Trump as for Biden.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody however sent a letter to the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement asking that the agencies investigate Bloomberg’s donation.
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