Rep. Gaetz Calls for Investigation After Bloomberg Pays Florida Felons’ Debts To Clear Them for Voting
- Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg raised $16 million to pay outstanding fees for 32,000 felons in Florida, making them eligible to vote in November.
- The move comes about a week after an appeals court upheld a law that requires felons to pay all outstanding fees before they can vote, effectively preventing hundreds of thousands of people from casting ballots in the crucial swing state.
- That court ruling follows years of legal battles over a ballot measure passed overwhelmingly by Florida voters in 2018 which allowed most felons to vote after they completed their parole and probation periods.
- Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz claimed Bloomberg’s actions were illegal, saying they are considered providing “something of value to impact whether or not someone votes,” and called for the matter to be investigated.
Florida Voting Rights
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) claimed Tuesday that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg acted illegally when he helped raise $16 million to cover the court debts of felons in Florida so that they could be eligible to vote in the November election.
Bloomberg’s contribution comes after a years-long legal battle in Florida concerning the voting rights of felons.
Voters overwhelmingly approved a measure in 2018 to end the state’s lifetime ban on most felons voting. That measure, known as Amendment 4, effectively restored the voting rights of felons who had completed their parole and probation periods, with the exception of those who had been convicted of sex crimes or of murder. Around 1.5 million people — nearly 10% of the state’s adult population — were given the ability to vote.
Despite the fact that ending the ban had bipartisan support among Florida voters, shortly after Amendment 4 took effect, the state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed legislation requiring felons to pay off all outstanding debts in order to be eligible to vote, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law in June 2019.
Under the law, roughly 775,000 felons still who owed fines related to their convictions would not be able to vote until they paid them off. That number included some of the estimated 85,000 who had already registered to vote since Amendment 4 went into effect in January 2019.
However, the state offered almost no assistance for felons to determine how much they owed, or even if they owed anything at all. Officials even explicitly said it would take around six years to make a database for felons to look up their debts.
The Republican’s law immediately faced a number of legal challenges, and in May of this year, district court judge Robert Hinkle struck down the law, ruling that it was an unconstitutional “pay-to-vote system.”
In his decision, Hinkle argued that an “overwhelming majority” of the felons would not be able to pay their debts or even figure out how much they owed. He went so far as to say that the law amounted to a poll tax.
However, a federal appeals court blocked his order from going into effect while it considered the case, thus effectively allowing the law to stay in place. In July, the Supreme Court refused to overturn the federal appeals court’s decision to block felons from voting while they decided the case.
Then, just over a week ago, the appeals court delivered its final judgment, deciding in a 6-4 ruling that the Republican’s law was not unconstitutional, and that felons would be required to pay fees in order to vote.
The move prompted significant outrage, and civil rights groups representing the felons said they would keep fighting.
But with just weeks to go before the election — and even less time before Florida’s Oct. 5 voter registration deadline — it would be almost impossible for yet another full-scale legal battle to be resolved in their favor.
With little hope for any kind of sweeping legal change, many people instead began paying the fines felons owed so that they could vote. The effort, which has been spearheaded by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), specifically focuses on Black and Hispanic voters who are already registered and who owe debts that are less than $1,500.
According to the FRRC, the list of people who have donated to their cause includes Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and John Legend.
The largest donation so far, however, appears to be from Bloomberg and his team. The contribution, which the former mayor announced in a statement Tuesday, comes just after he pledged to give at least $100 million to elect Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Florida.
According to a memo accessed by The Washington Post, Bloomberg viewed the contribution as a more cost-effective way to get more Democratic votes in the state than persuading other voters.
“We have identified a significant vote share that requires a nominal investment. 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%,” the memo allegedly read.
Although Bloomberg’s efforts are political, Desmond Meade, the president of the FRRC, emphasized in a statement to The Post that the group is nonpartisan and does not share Bloomberg’s goal of encouraging just one political party.
Gaetz Claims Bloomberg’s Donations are Illegal
While Meade said Bloomberg’s donation does not dictate how the FRRC is operating, others, including Gaetz, have raised legal questions regarding the move.
“[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. So the question is whether or not paying off someone’s fines and legal obligations counts as something of value, and it clearly does,” the representative explained when speaking with Fox New’s Sean Hannity Tuesday night.
“If Michael Bloomberg was offering to pay off people’s credit card debts, you would obviously see the value in that. When you improve someone’s net worth by eliminating their financial liabilities, that’s something of value.”
“I believe there may be a criminal investigation already underway of the Bloomberg-connected activities in Florida,” he added, noting that he had spoken with Florida’s Attorney General.
The existence of a criminal probe has not been confirmed by any law enforcement officials. Bloomberg, for his part, has not yet responded to the accusations.
In a matter as politically charged as felon voting rights, it is probable that both sides will pull out all the stops. Especially because, in a state as heavily contested as Florida, adding felons to the voter rolls could actually sway the election.
In 2016, President Donald Trump only won Florida in 2016 by 1.2 percentage points — less than 113,000 vote difference. Right now, polls from the state show Trump and Biden in a dead heat.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Politico) (The New York Post)
Texas State Senate Sets Date for AG Ken Paxton’s Impeachment Trial
The House impeached Paxton on 20 articles, including bribery, abuse of public trust, and dereliction of duty.
The Texas State Senate on Monday adopted a resolution outlining how the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) will play out in the upper chamber.
The proceedings, which will be over seen by the Lieutenant Governor, will start no later than Aug. 28. The move comes after the House voted to impeach Paxton on Saturday 121 to 23, with a majority of Republicans voting in favor. The historic vote marks just the third time a public official has been impeached in Texas’ nearly 200-year history. The most recent impeachment was nearly five decades ago.
The decision follows a tumultuous week for Texas Republicans and further highlights the growing rifts within the party.
The divisions first came to a head last Tuesday when Paxton called for Speaker of the House Dade Phelan (R) to step down after he presided over the floor while seemingly intoxicated. Mere hours later, the Republican-led General Investigating Committee announced that it had been investigating Paxton for months.
On Thursday, the committee unanimously recommended that Paxton be impeached and removed from office, prompting a full floor vote over the weekend.
Articles of Impeachment
In total, 20 articles of impeachment were brought against Paxton, including bribery, abuse of public trust, dereliction of duty, and more.
While there is a wide range of allegations, many first surfaced in Oct. 2020, when seven of Paxton’s top aides published a letter they had sent to the Attorney General’s director of human resources.
The letter accused Paxton of committing several crimes and asked the FBI to launch an investigation, which it did.
The staffers claimed that Paxton had abused his office to benefit Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer and friend of Paxton’s who donated $25,000 to his 2018 campaign. Many of the impeachment articles concern Paxton’s alleged efforts to try and protect Paul from an FBI investigation he was facing in 2020.
Specifically, Paxton is accused of attempting to interfere in foreclosure lawsuits and issuing legal opinions that benefitted Paul, improperly obtaining undisclosed information to give him, and violating agency policies by appointing an outside attorney to investigate baseless claims and issue subpoenas to help the developer and his businesses.
In exchange, Paul allegedly helped Paxton by hiring a woman the Attorney General was having an affair with and paying for expensive renovations to Paxton’s home. According to the articles, that swap amounted to bribery.
Beyond Paxton’s relationship with Paul, many impeachment articles also concern how the top lawyer handled the 2020 letter.
In particular, Paxton is accused of violating Texas’ whistleblower law by firing four of the staffers who reported him in retaliation, misusing public funds to launch a sham investigation into the whistleblowers, and making false official statements in his response to the allegations.
The Attorney General also allegedly tried to conceal his wrongdoing by entering into a $3.3 million settlement with the fired staffers. The settlement is especially notable as House leaders have explicitly said they launched their probe into Paxton because he had asked the state legislature to approve taxpayer money to pay for that settlement.
Additionally, the impeachment articles outline several charges relating to a securities fraud case that Paxton was indicted for in 2015 but has not been charged in. The charges there include lying to state investigators and obstructing justice.
Paxton, for his part, has denied the allegations. On Saturday, the Attorney General issued a statement seeking to politicize the matter, claiming his impeachment was “illegal” and a “politically motivated scam.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press) (The New York Times)
Trump Lawyer Notes Indicate Former President May Have Obstructed Justice in Mar-a-Lago Documents Probe
The notes add to a series of recent reports that seem to paint a picture of possible obstruction.
Corcoran’s Notes on Mar-a-Lago
Prosecutors have 50 pages of notes from Donald Trump’s lawyer Evan Corcoran that show the former president was explicitly told he could not keep any more classified documents after he was subpoenaed for their return, according to a new report by The Guardian.
The notes, which were disclosed by three people familiar with the matter, present new evidence that indicates Trump obstructed justice in the investigation into classified documents he improperly kept at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
In June, Corcoran found around 40 classified documents in a storage room at Mar-a-Lago while complying with the initial subpoena. The attorney told the Justice Department that no additional documents were on the property.
In August, however, the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago and discovered about 100 more.
The Guardian’s report is significant because it adds a piece to the puzzle prosecutors are trying to put together: whether Trump obstructed justice when he failed to comply with the subpoena by refusing to return all the documents he had or even trying to hide them intentionally.
As the outlet noted, prosecutors have been “fixated” on Trump’s valet, Walt Nauta, since he told them that the former president directed him to move boxes out of the storage room before and after the subpoena. His actions were also captured on surveillance footage.
The sources familiar with Corcoran’s notes said the pages revealed that both Trump and the Nauta “had unusually detailed knowledge of the botched subpoena response, including where Corcoran intended to search and not search for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, as well as when Corcoran was actually doing his search.”
At one point, Corcoran allegedly noted how he had told the Nauta about the subpoena prior to his search for the documents because the lawyer needed him to unlock the storage room, showing how closely involved the valet was from the get-go.
Corcoran further stated that Nauta had even offered to help go through the boxes, but the attorney declined. Beyond that, the report also asserted that the notes “suggested to prosecutors that there were times when the storage room might have been left unattended while the search for classified documents was ongoing.”
Adding to the Evidence
If real, Corcoran’s notes are very damning, especially considering other recent reports concerning Trump’s possible efforts to obstruct the documents probe.
A few weeks ago, The New York Times reported that Corcoran had testified before a grand jury that multiple Trump employees told him the Mar-a-Lago storage room was the only place the documents were kept.
“Although Mr. Corcoran testified that Mr. Trump did not personally convey that false information, his testimony hardly absolved the former president,” the outlet reported, referencing people with knowledge of the matter.
“Mr. Corcoran also recounted to the grand jury how Mr. Trump did not tell his lawyers of any other locations where the documents were stored, which may have effectively misled the legal team.”
Additionally, the only reason that Corcoran handed over these notes was that he was under court order to do so. Corcoran had refused to turn the materials over, citing attorney-client privilege.
A federal judge rejected that claim on the grounds that there was reason to believe a lawyer’s advice or services were used to further a crime — meaning prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to prove Trump may have acted criminally.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (The New York Times) (Vanity Fair)
Homeless Men Promised Money to Pose as Veterans in Anti-Immigrant Scheme, Sources Allege
New York State Attorney General Letitia James said she is reviewing whether to launch a formal investigation into the ruse.
A story that was spread by right-wing media about homeless veterans getting evicted from their hotel rooms to make way for asylum seekers has turned out to be false, according to numerous sources.
Early this month, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a plan to bus some migrants to hotels in neighboring counties, where they would stay for several months.
Orange County and Rockland County filed lawsuits to block the move, and the state supreme court granted both temporary restraining orders, but many migrants had already arrived. To make room for the incoming migrants, one hotel in Orange County forced at least 15 homeless veterans to leave, media reported at the time.
But several homeless men told local outlets they had allegedly been offered payment if they posed as military veterans staying at the hotel.
Sharon Toney-Finch, head of Yerik Israel Toney Foundation (YIT), a nonprofit that houses the homeless, allegedly masterminded the scheme.
Her associates allegedly rounded up 15 homeless men at a shelter and promised them as much as $200 each if they spoke with a local politician about homelessness. But they told reporters that when they met Toney-Finch at a diner, she presented her real plan. They would speak to a local chamber of commerce instead, the men recalled, and if they weren’t comfortable with telling the lie, Toney-Finch instructed them to say they had PTSD and couldn’t speak.
After fulfilling their end of the bargain, however, they said she never paid them the cash they were promised.
Several of them described the ordeal to media outlets, and reporters soon poked more holes in the story.
The Times Union published a copy of a credit card receipt that purportedly showed a payment of more than $37,000 for rooms at the Crossroads Hotel for the unhoused veterans alongside a copy of what appears to be Toney-Finch’s credit card.
But a graphics expert who examined the documents said the receipt appeared to have been “altered with smudges behind the darker type and [had] different fonts,” according to Mid Hudson News.
A hotel manager also told the outlet he could not find any record of the transaction, and there were no veterans at the hotel and nobody was kicked out.
Local Republican state assembly member Brian Maher, who previously reacted to the fake story with outrage, told The Times Union he felt “devastated and disheartened” when he learned that he was duped.
“She alluded to the fact that, ‘Maybe it’s not exactly how I said it was,’” Maher recalled, describing a conversation with Toney-Finch. “This is something I believe hurt a lot of people.”
New York State Attorney General Leticia James is reportedly reviewing the incident to determine if a formal investigation is warranted.