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Politics / Issues
Here is what you need about the 2020 elections across the greater Tampa Bay region.

FDLE: No Formal Investigation Underway Into Bloomberg's Donation Paying Florida Felons' Debts

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks during a roundtable discussion with President Donald Trump and law enforcement officials, Monday, June 8, 2020, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody speaks during a roundtable discussion with President Donald Trump and law enforcement officials, Monday, June 8, 2020, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A spokesperson for FDLE says a “review,” which can include gathering evidence, is underway.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has not launched a formal investigation into Mike Bloomberg’s effort to pay fines and fees for Florida felons, the agency told WFSU Monday. A spokesperson for FDLE says a “review,” which can include gathering evidence, is underway.

The FBI declined to comment Monday on whether it has opened an investigation at all.

A spokesperson for FDLE described how a review by the agency works: “It's not an investigation at this point; it's a review by FDLE agents. Once we receive a complaint, we review it to determine whether or not the allegations are criminal in nature. A review can include investigative steps, like preliminary interviews and the gathering of documents.”

Nearly two weeks ago, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody sent a letter to the FDLE and FBI asking for an investigation into former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s effort to pay fines and fees for Florida felons.

In her letter dated September 23, Moody said Gov. Ron DeSantis requested her office look into the matter. The letter cites state statute making it illegal to “directly or indirectly give or promise anything of value to another in casting his or her vote.”

Bloomberg made headlines nationally for raising about $16 million toward the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition’s campaign to pay fines, fees and restitution for people with a felony in their past. The FRRC was behind 2018’s Amendment 4, which cleared the way for many people with a felony to regain the right to vote after completing their sentence – but has faced significant legal challenges.

Moody’s letter cited a Washington Post article reporting Bloomberg’s advisers had data suggesting the majority of people whose fines would be paid were more likely to vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. On September 22, the media outlet Slate reported on a Bloomberg memo concerning the fundraising, which read: “The data shows that in Florida, Black voters are a unique universe unlike any other voting bloc, where the Democratic support rate tends to be 90%-95%.”

WFSU reported in September that according to a 2019 ACLU study, Black people would likely be the largest group to benefit from the donations.

Desmond Meade, who heads the FRRC, recently saw his effort to get his own civil rights back get tabled by the state Clemency Board – comprised of DeSantis and the rest of the Florida Cabinet.

During an interview in September in response to Moody’s request for an investigation, Meade refuted the claim his organization is trying to get votes for a particular party.

“When we were campaigning we explicitly said that we are fighting just as hard for that person that wish he could have voted for Donald Trump, as well as that person that wish they could’ve voted for Barack Obama," Meade said.

The claim that Bloomberg may have broken the law by launching the effort was given a boost onto the national stage by Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, who on a primetime Fox News spot in September said a “criminal investigation may be underway.”

WFSU reporter Blaise Gainey contributed to this report

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