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The Biden and Trump campaigns are focusing on Florida, the state so evenly divided that elections are often won by a few thousand or even a few hundred votes.
It was a big setback when in September a Federal appeals court dominated by Trump nominees ruled that over 700,000 former felons, many of whom lean Democratic, would not be able to vote unless they paid all their court fees.
In 2019, Florida voters passed an amendment to the state constitution that restored voting rights to those with felony convictions who had completed “all terms” of their sentences. The Republican state legislature decided that “all terms” also requires payment of fines and fees, overturning the will of the voters.
Their decision was initially struck down in Federal court. A judge found that the overwhelming majority of former felons would be too poor to pay the amounts owed, if they could find out what they owed, saying that the law had created an “administrative nightmare” and was effectively an unconstitutional tax on voting. The amount of fees, and the completion of their payments, can only be determined by officials of the county in which the violations have occurred. That’s the system that the Federal appeals court just reaffirmed.
Fortunately, returning citizens can turn to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to navigate this process. FRRC has also taken donations of $3 million so far to help them pay off fines.
Of the total number of Florida’s returning citizens at least 85,000 have already registered to vote. It’s unclear how much fines those citizens owe, or the procedures for paying off a majority of them rapidly. Since most such fees are considered unlikely to be paid off, county officials may be open to negotiation for part payment of back fees, according to the Fines and Fees Justice Center. A $5 or $10 million donation to FRRC right now could be pivotal to the presidential race. It’s a hypothetical question until a large donor contacts FRRC.
There are quite a few extremely wealthy Americans who could easily put that up, but the most likely candidate is Michael Bloomberg.
Forbes magazine ranked him as one of the richest people in the world, with a net worth of $60 billion. Tom Steyer, whose presidential campaign also folded quickly, has a net worth of only $1.6 billion. Bloomberg could donate Steyer’s entire net worth to 2020 campaigns and would hardly notice it.
Bloomberg spent $935 million dollars of his own money on his brief presidential run. That sum exceeded the $748 million Barack Obama raised from donors in the 2008 election. After he ended his campaign, Democrats were relieved to hear him promise a “massive spending blitz,” in which he would donate whatever it took to beat Trump.
As of late July, Bloomberg had given $18 million to the Democratic National Committee and $11 million to the House Majority PAC. He had also spent $331 million on efforts to combat Covid-19.
In August he pledged $60 million more to Democratic House races. In September, he committed to spending $100 million to the Biden campaign in Florida. These recent donations are laudable, but insufficient. Given our dire circumstances and Bloomberg’s immense resources, we urge him to step up his support for Democratic campaigns immediately.
On September 17, the Miami Herald Editorial Board agreed, calling
Bloomberg the last hope for these potential voters, as October 5 is the
last day to register. ("Write a big old check, Mr. Bloomberg, and help
Florida's ex-felons vote in November.")
On September 21, the New York Times published an op ed, "This is How Bloomberg Can Help Biden Win Florida," with the same request.
Mr. Bloomberg, please contact FRRC and determine how best to pay the fees and secure the voting rights for the largest number of Florida’s returning citizens in time for this election.
And next, please make good on your promise to donate whatever it takes to beat Trump. Your investments are at risk. All the previous good works of Bloomberg Philanthropies - on the arts, education, the environment, good government, and public health – will be in dire peril unless Democrats take the White House and Senate. At stake is America remaining a nation of laws, not an authoritarian regime, and our capacity to respond to the virus and the climate crisis. Everything is on the line. Please do as much as you can right now.
“A Tight Trump-Biden Race in Florida: Here’s the State of Play,” NYT, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/14/us/politics/florida-trump-biden-2020.html
“Court upholds Florida law requiring felons to pay fines, fees before they can vote,” The Hill, https://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/516054-court-upholds-florida-law-requiring-felons-to-pay-fines-fees-before
“Supreme Court Deals Major Blow to Ex-Felon’s Right to Vote in Florida,” NPR, https://www.npr.org/2020/07/17/892105780/supreme-court-deals-major-blow-to-ex-felons-right-to-vote-in-florida
“Federal appeals court blocks Florida's felons from voting until fees and fines are paid,” USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/11/federal-court-rules-florida-felons-rights-vote-fall-election/5748335002/
Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, https://floridarrc.com/
“Felons Have the Potential to Swing Close 2020 Races,” Politico,
“Bloomberg Gave Almost $1 Billion to his Presidential Campaign,” Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-20/bloomberg-gave-almost-1-billion-to-his-presidential-campaign
“Bloomberg Plots Spending Blitz to Support Joe Biden’s Run for President,” CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/15/mike-bloomberg-plots-spending-blitz-to-back-joe-biden-campaign.html
“Bloomberg Vowed to Spend Whatever It Takes to Beat Trump. Democrats Are Still Waiting,” NPR, https://www.npr.org/2020/07/29/896545732/bloomberg-vowed-to-spend-whatever-it-takes-to-beat-trump-dems-are-still-waiting
“Bloomberg Promised to Spend Big Against Trump. What Happened?” NY1, https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2020/07/25/mike-bloomberg-promised-to-spend-big-against-trump--what-happened-
“Mike Bloomberg gives $60 Million to help Democrats in November as former campaign aides turn against him,” Guardian, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-election/mike-bloomberg-house-democratic-national-convention-2020-presidential-election-a9675956.html
“Mike Bloomberg to Commit at Least $100 Million to Help Biden Campaign in Florida,” Time, https://time.com/5888547/bloomberg-biden-funding/
“Bloomberg Philanthropies Unveil Website and Priorities,” Chronicle of Philanthropy, https://www.philanthropy.com/article/Bloomberg-Philanthropies/154947