Did Bloomberg Commit A Crime In Paying Off The Debts Of Black and Hispanic Former Felons To Allow Them To Vote?

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg has pledged to pour $100 million dollars in Florida alone to elect Joe Biden as part of his earlier pledge to pump hundreds of millions into the election.  The role of billionaires like Bloomberg and Sheldon Adelson in pouring hundreds of millions into the election for each side remains controversial, though many past critics of such windfall campaign financing are now demanding more support.  Bloomberg however is now under fire for pledging to pay off the debts of Black and Hispanic former felons to allow them to vote. The Washington Post reported that the funding of only Black and Hispanic former felons was due in part to the fact that they are more likely to vote for Biden.  That effort has led to allegations that Bloomberg may himself be committing a felony under Florida election laws. Much of this controversy is focused on the reporting of the Washington Post and an alleged Bloomberg memo. The money is actually distributed by a Florida organization committed to restoring voting rights for former felons.

Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 restoring the right for felons to vote, except those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses. This right was later conditioned on the payment of all fees, fines, and restitution that were part of their sentence. The right to restrict such voting was uphold by the Eleventh Circuit and that order was left in place in June by the United States Supreme Court over the dissent of Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Bloomberg is now moving to pay off those debts for nearly 32,000 Black and Hispanic convicted felons. Notably, while defending this effort as simply restoring the right to vote for felons, Bloomberg will only do that for Black and Hispanic voters. A Bloomberg memo first reported by the Washington Post read: “We know to win Florida we will need to persuade, motivate and add new votes to the Biden column. This means we need to explore all avenues for finding the needed votes when so many votes are already determined.” As a result, Bloomberg is only clearing the way for Black and Hispanic voters because they are more likely to vote for Biden. Thus, those former felons who might vote for Trump are intentionally left disenfranchised by Bloomberg.

That raw political calculation has led some to raise the possible violation of Florida law.  On Fox, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.), stated that Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody told him that there might be a criminal investigation of Bloomberg.  As an initial matter, such discussion of a possible criminal investigation of Bloomberg by Moody would in my view be highly inappropriate.

Gaetz stated “[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.”

That is not entirely accurate. Such an investigation would be based on Section 104.061:

104.061 Corruptly influencing voting.

(1) Whoever by bribery, menace, threat, or other corruption whatsoever, either directly or indirectly, attempts to influence, deceive, or deter any elector in voting or interferes with him or her in the free exercise of the elector’s right to vote at any election commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084 for the first conviction, and a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084, for any subsequent conviction.
(2) No person shall directly or indirectly give or promise anything of value to another intending thereby to buy that person’s or another’s vote or to corruptly influence that person or another in casting his or her vote. Any person who violates this subsection is guilty of a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. However, this subsection shall not apply to the serving of food to be consumed at a political rally or meeting or to any item of nominal value which is used as a political advertisement, including a campaign message designed to be worn by a person.
Section 1 refers to “bribery, menace, threat, or other corruption whatsoever, either directly or indirectly” as the means for influencing the votes. Paying the debt of former felons is a lawful action and would not satisfy any of those criteria.  “Corruption” is not a colloquial but a legal term. It must refer to a clear nexus of securing unlawful derived benefits. The term is most often used in public corruption cases, but the Supreme Court has routinely rejected broad interpretations of this term (something that I discussed in the Trump impeachment). See McNally v. United States, Skilling v. United States, McCormick v. United States, and McDonnell v. United States.
That leaves Section 2.  That provision can be broken into two parts. First, there is the language “directly or indirectly give or promise anything of value to another intending thereby to buy that person’s or another’s vote.”  Bloomberg is not securing a commitment of how these individuals would vote. It is true that they are assuming that Black and Hispanic ex-felons will vote for Biden but, unless Bloomberg or the Florida Rights and Restoration Coalition have expressly made such a quid pro quo with the beneficiaries, there is no purchase of a vote.
The second part of that provision allows a charge for any effort “to corruptly influence that person or another in casting his or her vote.” This language however is narrowly construed in criminal cases.  It is not a “corrupt” purpose to clear the way for voting. 
The memo (and the racial exclusion of other beneficiaries) does make these determinations more difficult since it undermines the public claim that Bloomberg was simply trying to restoring voting rights. However, they would need something more concrete to establish a corrupt purpose or a quid pro quo.
Of course, the racial exclusion of other votes and the memo could justify a criminal investigation shortly before the election.  That would allow Florida investigators to seize material and interview staff members. Even if a basis for a criminal charge is not found, the memo destroys the high ground for Bloomberg in defending the right to vote for some, but not all, former felons.

185 thoughts on “Did Bloomberg Commit A Crime In Paying Off The Debts Of Black and Hispanic Former Felons To Allow Them To Vote?”

  1. Anyone defending Bloomberg’s actions: you must agree your reaction is exactly the same if the racial parameters are inverted for presumed Trump voters, e.g. white felons only; blacks and browns specifically and absolutely excluded.

    If not, just more Demonkrap hypocrisy.

  2. Jonathan: If Trump and his Republican allies in Congress and in state legislatures had their way we would return to the old days when only white property owners had the right to vote. In Florida voters in 2019 overturned the Jim Crow-era law restricting the right of ex-felons to vote. Ignoring the will of Floridians, it was the Republican controlled legislature, which you don’t mention, that then passed a law requiring ex-felons to pay off all fines, fees, etc. before having their voting rights restored. It was, in effect, a “poll tax”. In an ironic twist it was Florida federal court of appeals Judge Barbara Lagoa, a fact you also don’t mention, that joined a majority of the 11th Circuit last week in upholding the poll tax restrictions. The irony is that Lagoa, Cuban-American, is on Trump’s short list for the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Trump knows that Florida has a history of razor thin voting margins (see 2000) and he desperately needs the Cuban-American vote and to keep Blacks and other minorities from voting. So with Lagoa he would get a twofer! In addition, with Lagoa on the Supreme Court, should she be confirmed before the November election, he would have a firm ally in the event there was another contested election. What’s not to like about Lagoa?

    Now if Michael Bloomberg wants to use his millions to restore the voting rights of Florida residents more power to him. I agree any attempt to conduct a criminal investigation of Bloomberg’s largesse would be “highly inappropriate” and does not violate any of the provisions of Florida’s voting laws. But Trump is so desperate to win Florida he might push his Republican allies to start an investigation just to slow down Bloomberg’s effort. Depriving Floridians of the precious right to vote is part of Trump’s campaign strategy.

    1. If the fines and fees, etc are part of your punishment, it is not a poll tax. A poll tax is a tax paid by everyone to vote.

  3. A DEAR PRICE MUST BE EXACTED FROM THE TREASONOUS ENEMIES OF THE MANIFEST TENOR OF THE U.S. CONSTITUTION

    The American Founders established a restricted-vote republic. Turnout in 1788 was 11.6%, by design. The vote was restricted generally to: Male, European, 21 with 50 lbs. Sterling or 50 acres.

    States may and must begin to implement restrictions on the vote to eliminate the communist “dictatorship of the proletariat” in America.

    The likes of Bloomberg must be penalized. The People are the new “Soverign” while government is the subject. Until 1870 in the U.K., challenging the authority of the Sovereign was penalized by Drawing and Quartering. The traitor Bloomberg is well deserving of the same for treason; for adhering to and aiding and giving comfort to enemies of the manifest tenor of the U.S. Constitution.
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “the people are nothing but a great beast…

    I have learned to hold popular opinion of no value.”

    – Alexander Hamilton
    _________________

    “The true reason (says Blackstone) of requiring any qualification, with regard to property in voters, is to exclude such persons, as are in so mean a situation, that they are esteemed to have no will of their own.”

    “If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote… But since that can hardly be expected, in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications, whereby, some who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting; in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other.”

    – Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 1775

  4. No evidence is mentioned that ONLY black and latino ex-felons as eligible. Not in the parts of the memo or anywhere else. Bloomberg is not stupid. He knows what a firestorm would happen once any white ex-felon is denied the payoff because of being white.

  5. The memo states that the goal is “we will need to persuade, motivate and add new votes to the Biden column.”
    Wouldn’t that fall into “buying votes”?

      1. But if the Trump campaign were to make a similar offer to white ex-cons, then I’m sure it would be a case of buying votes.

        1. a) I don’t know if the Trump campaign itself can do it (because those are campaign funds, and I don’t know the restrictions on campaign spending). But if one of Trump’s wealthy friends wants to do that, it wouldn’t constitute buying votes either.
          b) So far, I haven’t seen any actual evidence that the money Bloomberg raised is restricted to Black and Hispanic ex-felons. Do you have actual evidence of this?

          1. I am curious about that precise question as well. I got this “black and hispanic” notion from Turley’s article but would be interested in verifying it.

            was it just by dint of the usual preponderance of blacks among convicted felons, or did he tie the benefit to black or Hispanic identity? i would like to know more about that.

            even if he did not, i would still oppose the stunt as contrary to the good of society. it’s just worse if he linked it to their group status.

            1. The original stunt was the Republican legislature dismissing the will of the people in a voted on constitutional amendment and refusing to allow those who did their time a restoration of rights.

            2. Mr. Kurtz, given the lack of evidence and the assumptions being floated about within right wing media that only black and Latino’s will get their fines paid. I suspect it’s an attempt at making it look like that’s the case just so that there is some nefarious intent that seems illegal but is not.

  6. As is becoming usual, Turley left off some critical factual details to put in a partisan spin. Florida passed a law to allow former felons to vote, but Republicans amended the law to condition the right to vote on paying off all fines, restitution or other monetary penalties, plus accrued interest. Of course, someone who has been in prison would be lucky to have a roof over his head, and couldn’t possibly come up with the money. The REASON why Republicans in Florida put in the cash payoff provision was to prevent former felons, the majority of whom are black and Hispanic, from voting because Republicans assumed they would vote Democratic. Now, Bloomberg has pledged to restore the original intention of the statute by paying off the fines and court costs, and Turley has his shorts in a twist. Even he can’t come up with some way to make this a crime, but he still has to posit that it could possibly be criminal.

    1. Applause for Republicans for helping curtail the number of convicted felons from voting. Personally I could care less which demographic group was ‘impacted” by it.
      Society is being “impacted” by their crimes and it’s the least we can do to stop them from further harm to society.

      1. Mr. Kurtz, convicted felons who have served their time and are free have every right to be able to vote again. Having met their punishment they are rightly entitled to vote.

        Republicans have been trying hard to keep them from voting. The very attempts to do so ironically just encourages them to NOT vote for republicans. Bloomberg paying their fines is not only legal, but a consequence of republicans denying the will of the voters.

  7. It seems the motive is clear. It is an indirect bribe to Hispanic and Black convicted felons knowing from statistics that the demographic will vote democratic. It is a subversion of the Florida law and the specific exclusion of Caucasian felons proves intent.

  8. What does the law say? Start with the Constitution. Then go the States involved.If you find no law broken is it an intentional loophole or an intentional escape hatch?. That’s up to the people of the STATE unless it violates federal law. Doesn’t appear to be the case.

    1. Turley doesn’t actually provide any evidence that it’s limited to Blacks and Hispanics, nor do the articles I looked at, nor does it say that on the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition website. I’m still trying to figure out why so many people are claiming this.

      Do you have any actual evidence of it from either Bloomberg or the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition?

      1. CTHD, the only reason why the claim persists is more likely because it’s a fabrication perpetrated by right wing media. It’s an excuse to make it look like it’s wrong somehow. It’s the only explanation I can think of.

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