Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire media executive who ran for president, has raised more than $16m to pay outstanding fines and fees for tens of thousands of Florida voters with criminal convictions as part of an effort to defeat Donald Trump.
Mr Bloomberg raised the money for Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a group set up to help people re-entering society after serving time in prison. The funds will be used to allow people who have served their sentences to become eligible to vote by clearing their unpaid fees and fines.
Earlier this month, Mr Bloomberg, a three-term mayor of New York City, announced that he was planning to spend $100m in an effort to help Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, in Florida, a key swing state.
The FRRC, which had already raised about $5m before Mr Bloomberg’s push, said it had received funds from an “impressive and diverse group of supporters”, including singer John Legend, basketball players LeBron James and Michael Jordan, and film director Steven Spielberg.
“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right,” Mr Bloomberg said in a statement. “Working together with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, we are determined to end disenfranchisement and the discrimination that has always driven it.”
Mr Bloomberg’s effort, which was first reported by Associated Press, comes less than two weeks after a federal appeals court ruled in favour of Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor and a loyal Trump ally, who had argued that former felons who still owed fines and fees should not be eligible to vote. Florida’s voter registration deadline is October 5.
Former felons were granted the right to vote in Florida in 2018, after two-thirds of voters approved a constitutional amendment in a public referendum. The action expanded voting rights to 1.4m people in the state, many of whom are black or Hispanic — two groups that are more likely to vote for Democrats. It did not apply to people convicted of murder or sexual offences.
A recent University of Florida report found as many as 775,000 former felons still owe money related to their convictions.
Desmond Meade, executive director of the FRRC, said: “This outpouring of support for returning citizens is reminiscent of the type of support we received from people from all walks of life during our [amendment] campaign. This effort is about placing people over politics.
“We are creating a more inclusive democracy that we all can be proud of,” he added.
Florida, which is now Mr Trump’s “home” state after the president renounced his New York residency, has long been a key battleground in US presidential elections. The winner in Florida has gone on to win the White House in 13 of the 14 past contests.
This year, the presidential race in Florida is too close to call, although polls narrowly favour Mr Biden as Mr Trump struggles to solidify support among senior citizens, who make up an estimated one in five voters in Florida.
A Financial Times average of recent statewide polls show Mr Biden with a 1.9-point lead over the incumbent. Mr Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 in Florida by a 1.2-point margin.
Mr Biden and Mr Bloomberg, a former Republican, were rivals earlier this year, when the former New York mayor was a late entrant into a crowded Democratic presidential primary field. He suspended his campaign in March, after a disappointing performance on “Super Tuesday”, when his only win was the territory of American Samoa.