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An Investment in Democracy

"I've always believed we need to make it easier for all citizens to register and vote, not harder."

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Most days you’ll find him high above Manhattan in the dazzling innovative glass skyscraper that bears his name. Number 20 on Forbes List of Billionaires often works side by side with his employees. At 78, Michael Bloomberg (he prefers “Mike”) shows no signs of slowing down.

A global leader in financial data services, he employs over 20,000 people in 192 countries. And even though he won’t be the next president of the United States, the former Democratic candidate is determined to have a say in who will. Through a series of strategic campaign donations and tireless fundraising efforts, he is making his presence felt in the closing weeks of the 2020 election.

Last month the former New York City mayor donated 100-million-dollars to help Joe Biden win the crucial swing state of Florida. No Republican since Calvin Coolidge in 1924 has won the presidency without winning Florida.

Bloomberg suspended his campaign in March, graciously endorsing Biden in a speech that included a rare display of emotion, addressing supporters while choking back tears. “I am clear-eyed about our overriding objective, and that is victory in November. I will not be our party’s nominee, but I will not walk away from the most important political fight of my life.”

Former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks to supporters after suspending his Democratic presidential campaign.

Since dropping out of the race, Bloomberg has been dropping money in key Democratic races to combat voter suppression, appeal to Puerto Rican voters, and boost down-ballot candidates.

“Voter suppression efforts…keep Black Americans and other Democratic-leaning voters from the polls,” Bloomberg said. I’ve always believed we need to make it easier for all citizens to register and vote, not harder.”

Bloomberg’s $500,000 donation last week in the must win county of Miami-Dade could also lift the Democratic candidate for mayor, Daniella Levine Cava. Her victory could have statewide and national implications. According to a Democratic strategist from Run for Something, which supports down-ballot candidates, investment in state and local races are important and often overlooked. Republicans have spent hundreds of millions of dollars winning them and have been controlling the levers of power.

Bloomberg’s political philanthropy did not go unnoticed by the President. On September 18th Donald Trump tweeted:

“Mini Mike Bloomberg, after making a total fool of himself as he got badly beaten up by Pocahontas and the Democrats in the Primaries, is at it again. He tried to buy an Election and went away with a major case of Depression. Now he’s throwing money at the Dems, looking for a job!

Bloomberg fired back on Twitter:

“The only one who will be looking for a new job next year is you.”

Bloomberg’s contributions along with his fundraising efforts, raising $16 million for the nonprofit Florida Rights Restoration Coalition fund to help former felons vote, raised more than a few eyebrows. It also raised the ire of Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody, who urged the FBI and state authorities to open a criminal investigation into Mr. Bloomberg.

Bloomberg spokesman Jason Schechter called the attorney general’s response a “transparent political ploy” and “the latest example of Republicans attempting to keep Floridians disenfranchised.”

That didn’t stop Trump from making unsubstantiated claims in a Fox News Radio interview on September 25th. “It’s a felony. He’s actually giving money to people. He’s paying people to vote. He’s actually saying, ‘Here’s money, now you go ahead and vote for only Democrats.’ Right?”

Desmond Meade, Executive Director of FRRC said they are not paying anybody to vote, but simply satisfying unresolved legal financial obligations and “removing obstacles to allow people to participate in the democratic process.”

Two days later Trump tweeted:

“Wow, nobody realized how far Mini Mike Bloomberg went in bribing ex-prisoners to go out and vote for Sleepy Joe. He is desperate to get back into the good graces of the people who not only badly beat him, but made him look like a total fool. Now he’s committed a serious crime!”

Bloomberg wasn’t the only one helping raise funds for the FRRC, but he’s the only one being investigated. Others involved in the fundraising effort included singer John Legend, N.B.A. stars LeBron James and Michael Jordan, as well as Ben & Jerry’s, Levi Strauss & Co., the Miami Dolphins, Orlando Magic, and Miami Heat.

Bloomberg became involved in the ongoing controversy after a series of battles beginning in 2018, when Florida voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment ending the lifetime ban on a felon’s right to vote, with the exception of those convicted of murder or sexual assault.

In response, the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature passed a new law requiring ex-felons to pay all fees in full before they could register to vote. Since there’s no system in place for them to find out what they owe, there’s no way for them to pay the fees. As a result, almost 800,000 former felons remain in bureaucratic limbo.

A federal judge overturned the “pay-to-vote” law calling it an unconstitutional voting tax that created “an administrative nightmare.”

Last month an appeals court overturned that decision, upholding the ban in a 6-4 ruling. The decision will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but not in time for the November election, leaving an estimated 800,000 former felons unable to vote.

The son of a bookkeeper, who has given away $9.5 billion since signing The Giving Pledge, and who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his “prodigious entrepreneurial and philanthropic endeavors,” vows to keep fighting: “The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right….[W]e are determined to end disenfranchisement and the discrimination that has always driven it.”

On November 3rd, we’ll see if Mike Bloomberg’s investment in democracy has paid off.

“My father, a bookkeeper who never earned more than $11,000 a year in his life, sat there, writing out a $25 check to the NAACP. When I asked him why he said, discrimination against anyone is discrimination against us all. And I never forgot that. Indeed, his philanthropy was a gift, not just to that organization, but to me.” – Mike Bloomberg

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