Fox News hosts are now beating the drum to have a political opponent of President Donald Trump investigated and potentially even prosecuted — a pattern that has resulted in actual investigations many times before. The target this time is former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has raised $17 million for a charity helping former felons regain their voting rights in Florida.
A federal appeals court recently ruled that Florida could bar residents with felony convictions from voting if they owe money as part of their completed sentences — undermining a state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2018. Among the judges upholding the law was Barbara Lagoa, currently said to be on the short list to be Trump’s next nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As Media Matters’ Zachary Pleat has explained, the court ruling “disenfranchised an estimated 774,000 people, about 28% of whom are Black, less than two months before the 2020 presidential election.” And crucially, there is no central system to track former felons’ financial obligations, making the system intensely difficult to navigate.
Now filling the void is the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which is raising money and providing assistance to help rehabilitated felons pay those obligations, and which in turn is supported by a number of celebrities and companies from both the entertainment and professional athletics industries. The group is hoping to target over 31,000 former felons who had registered to vote and who owe $1,500 or less.
But Fox News hosts are now targeting Bloomberg for stepping up to significantly assist this organization, wanting him investigated for vote-buying — that is, providing a thing of value in exchange for a person’s vote. This comes after a Bloomberg adviser told The Washington Post in a report Tuesday: “Mike wanted to get this done for two reasons. One, because it’s the right thing to do for the democracy. And two, because it immediately activates tens of thousands of voters who are predisposed to vote for Joe Biden,” because minority groups vote disproportionately for Democrats.
Bloomberg has also said he would spend $100 million to help Biden win Florida.
The group itself, however, says it is not targeting people to receive its support based on political party.
And this effort may now indeed be in Republican sights. As South Florida NPR reporter Danny Rivero reported late Wednesday afternoon, Florida’s Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody has sent a letter to both the FBI and the state’s Department of Law Enforcement, asking them to investigate “potential violations of election law.”
On the Tuesday edition of Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs Tonight, the eponymous host and Trump super fan called Bloomberg a “failed presidential candidate and oligarch” and hosted Rep. Matt Maetz (R-FL), who called for the Florida attorney general to launch an investigation.
On Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, the host segued seamlessly from a monlogue against George Soros — a liberal philanthropist and frequent target of anti-Semitic smears and conspiracy theories from right-wing media — to speak in turn against Bloomberg.
“Our billionaire class is the real threat to democracy,” said Carlson. “That's obvious if you think about it, which is why you're told you're not allowed to think about it,” he said, later adding that Bloomberg is “trying to buy this election.”
Gaetz returned to that evening’s edition of Hannity, joining Trump legal team member Jordan Sekulow to inveigh against Bloomberg.
Hannity asked: “Has Mayor Bloomberg now put himself, in your — from your legal perspective, in jeopardy, legal jeopardy?”
“He has potentially put himself in legal jeopardy,” Sekulow answered. “He's got the Florida attorney general, he's got congressman Gaetz, he's got people — he's got statutes that look like they apply directly to this. And like the congressman said, he told people when he was fundraising for this why he was doing it — to get votes for Joe Biden. So right there is the criminal issue that Mayor Bloomberg is potentially going to face.”
The Ingraham Angle featured voter-fraud fearmonger J. Christian Adams, who told host Laura Ingraham that Bloomberg was not only endangering himself, but also “might jeopardize these same people who are trying to restore their civil rights” — an apparent effort to scare off anyone from receiving help.
“Federal law makes it a crime to pay for, or offer to pay for or receive money for, voting,” Adams said. “And so, if somebody gives you something for voting, that is a crime under federal law, so Bloomberg might be putting these people right back in jeopardy of federal prosecution.”
Ingraham and Adams also claimed that the people receiving help could face “tax implications” if they did not report this financial help as taxable income. (Without making any judgment on that question, one would assume a charitable foundation handling this work would be aware of all those possible details.)
Fox News host Mark Levin also got creative on his radio show, calling for Bloomberg and the coalition to be investigated for vote-buying, and also saying they might face a whole lot of individual charges.
“The issue is whether that is a bribe,” Levin said. “Is it a bribe — is it 31,000 bribes? That is the question.”
On Wednesday morning’s edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt also discussed the story with Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who said it “sounds like the statute, the law, is pretty clear that if you’re giving something of value to have someone vote — and to me paying off a fine is certainly something of value.”
Fox News contributor and longtime Republican strategist Karl Rove appeared later in the program, and while he did not accuse Bloomberg of criminality, he did call the move “offensive,” saying that people should be paying their own fines and restitution in the name of “personal responsibility,” rather than have a billionaire come along and pay it for them as a political favor. (Ironically, Trump famously offered during the last election to pay legal fees for supporters who “knock the crap out of” protesters at his campaign rallies — though he also soon backed out of the promise.)
Wednesday afternoon’s edition of Outnumbered also hyped Gaetz’s statement that Bloomberg could be facing a criminal probe.
Co-host Katie Pavlich claimed that the Florida governor and legislature supported giving felons a second chance to vote — though they actually put up significant administrative roadblocks — and then declared: “The issue here is whether Michael Bloomberg is bribing these people by paying off their fees and legal obligations to the state, in return for 32,000 votes for Joe Biden. That’s the issue here.”
Co-host Melissa Francis sought to chime in with a reasonable note — but also still managed to bring up George Soros’ name as a seemingly legitimate issue.
“Right, well, there’s no guarantee, of course, that those people are going to go out and vote for Joe Biden,” said Francis. “I think what bothers me about this story is, any time you talk about one of these guys, you should talk about the larger group. But there are a number of people who are using their great wealth in order to influence the system — influence politics and influence elections. Whether we are talking about Michael Bloomberg, or Tom Steyer, or George Soros, or the Koch brothers, or any of those folks who go out there and use their vast wealth.”