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Republicans cry foul over Bloomberg donations for felon voters

Florida ex-felon voter restoration getting boost from former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Florida ex-felon voter restoration getting boost from former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Some top Florida Republicans are saying that efforts to pay off the fines and fees of felons may be an illegal attempt to buy votes.

The controversy comes after former Democratic Presidential Candidate Michael Bloomberg pledged to donate at least $16 million to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

A Washington Post article published last week on the Bloomberg donation alleged the former Presidential candidate hoped the money would register 32,000 Black and Hispanic voters, saying they are more likely to vote for Democrats.

“It doesn’t smell good, it doesn’t look good,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican.

Patronis believes the effort could equate to paying for votes.

“And this is why I am asking the Elections Commission to investigate,” said Patronis.

Attorney General Ashley Moody, also a Republican, requested the FBI and FDLE look into the matter, citing the Florida statute that prohibits offering incentives for voting.

News4Jax reached out to FDLE, which said it’s reviewing the Attorney General’s letter but has not yet begun an investigation.

Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Deputy Director Neil Volz said the organization doesn’t ask about the race or political leanings of the felons whose fines they pay.

“We know what our true north is and our true north is to engage all returning citizens no matter what their political persuasions,” said Volz.

Volz said the coalition hasn’t even received any Bloomberg money.

He chalks the latest allegations up to partisan politics.

“Making its way into what should be an all American issue, which is allowing people to become eligible to vote and expanding democracy,” said Volz.

The coalition told us it has so far spent $5 million to pay the fines and fees of 5,000 felons.

There are estimated to be about 750,000 felons in Florida currently blocked from voting because of outstanding costs related to their sentence.

The coalition said newly eligible felons will march to the polls across the state in a day of action to speak out against what they describe as the ongoing efforts to suppress felons' voting rights on Oct. 24, the first day of early voting.