Bloomberg Raises $16M to Help Ex-Felons to Vote in Florida

Former New York City Mayor, Democratic Presidential Nominee, and billionaire Michael Bloomberg has raised $16 million to help former felons in Florida pay outstanding fees and fines which will allow them to regain their right to vote ahead of the November election.

What We Know:

  • In 2018, Florida voters passed a measure that restored voting rights to felons once they completed their parole or probation periods, excluding any who were convicted of murder or sexual offenses. The Republican-controlled state legislature added a caveat to this new legislature and limited the new law’s effect by requiring payment of all fees and fines that were part of their sentencing as restitution, leading to the potential disenfranchisement of many voters. This additional restriction was later upheld by the Supreme Court.
  • This new initiative combines funds raised by Bloomberg and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which raised $5 million for the effort. Together, the funds have been used to pay off monetary obligations for 32,000 felons in Florida just in time for Election Day. All the individuals eligible for this payback initiative were already registered to vote, Black or Latino, and had fines and fees of less than $1500.
  • “The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “Working together with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, we are determined to end disenfranchisement and the discrimination that has always driven it.”
  • Florida is a hotly contested state in the upcoming Presidential election, with recent polls showing President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden locked in a virtual tie. Bloomberg recently pledged to spend $100 million in Florida to help Biden win the state, but this move to help pay fines is separate from that pledge.
  • Bloomberg raised the funds from prominent individuals and foundations, working with artist John Legend to fundraise from donors including Susan Buffett, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, former hedge fund manager Michael Novogratz, and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
  • This voting effort targets mostly Black and Latino felons in Florida who registered to vote but couldn’t pay the fines when the legislation changed, populations in the past that have historically backed Democrats in larger numbers.

“Republicans & Democrats alike overwhelmingly supported this initiative in 2018, because in America, you get a second chance,” said Steve Schale, political strategist and 2008 Florida state director for Barack Obama.

  • Earlier this year in August, Representative Val Demings of Florida (D) introduced a House bill to prohibit all states from denying federal voting rights to felons and returning citizens with prior criminal convictions, equating this move to acts of voter suppression in the past. “During dark times in our history, millions of Americans have been denied their voting rights by unconstitutional poll taxes and tests like those imposed now by the Florida GOP,” she said. “I strongly support national and grassroots efforts to fulfill the intention of Amendment 4, reject GOP sabotage of that effort, and restore the voices and votes of our fellow citizens.”

Other nonprofits, including LeBron James’ voting rights group “More Than A Vote,” have pledged funds to help pay fees for Floridians with felony convictions. According to a recent University of Florida study, 775,000 of those convicted of felonies in Florida still owe money from their convictions but do not have the financial means to pay them.