In This Election Year, Some People Think That Debt Assistance Is Bribery

Some very wealthy people are paying the debts of Florida felons so that they can vote this year.

While cruising Twitter the other day, I found someone complaining that LeBron James has donated $100,000 to a fund that will help felons who have served their time, to pay their debts in time for the upcoming election. In 2018, Florida passed an amendment to their constitution that permits felons who have served their time to vote after their release from prison. The Republicans in the Florida statehouse responded swifly upon hearing this unhappy news. They quickly passed a law that says that felons should be required to pay every nickel and dime of their fines and restituion before they can vote. I guess lower voter turnout is a good thing in Florida — if you’re a Republican.

I can understand why some people would want ex-felons to pay their debts, even if they have trouble finding a job. Most employers ask for a criminal history and they shy away from anyone who might cause trouble. The logic is sound, they think, felons should not just do their time, they should be punished until they die with debt. But there is a problem. The state of Florida isn’t even sure how much money is owed by the felons. According to the Sun Sentinel:

Indeed, the scale of the issue is unknown even to some clerks of court. When the Sun Sentinel asked the office of Broward County Clerk of Courts Brenda Forman how much money felons owed in fines in Broward County, the clerk’s office replied that it would take hours of clerical and computer work to find the number. The newspaper was charged $150 for the time and effort. The Palm Beach clerk’s office was able to provide the data quickly and at no cost.

It is interesting to me that in this day and age of massive databases and artificial intelligence, that some counties in Florida can’t even put a number on how much is owed by felons. I wonder if they even care.

The timing of the law that required felons to pay their debts before they can vote is suspicious, too. Florida is an important state to the tough on crime crowd. And the tough on crime crowd seems to think that punishment is a lot more important than voter turnout. They also tend to omit the fact that the economy is rigged. If people have a hard time earning money the right way, then they will look at other ways to get their hands on money.

We’re 39 days away from the election. On Twitter, some very authoritarian people say that celebrities and media companies shouldn’t pay off the debts of the felons who still hadn’t paid their fines and fees. To them, that’s bribery.

Most of these people on Twitter are vindictive. They think that the felons who have served their sentences deserve still more punishment. They fail to notice that many of those who had been released and given the right to vote back a few years ago, were not required back then to pay their fines before voting. But today, it’s important to keep as many of those ex-felons away from the polls as possible in the biggest swing state.

Nevermind that prosecutors have a habit of withholding exculpatory evidence to score the points. Never mind that Jesus was talking about debt when he talked about forgiveness. Never mind the difficulty that felons have just to get a job let alone paying off old debts.

But that bribery charge. That one really sticks in my craw. It isn’t just LeBron James helping out. It’s also MTV, VHI, Comedy Central and Michael Bloomberg. Now you may disagree with them for chipping in a few bucks to help out. But every one of those entitities has a team of lawyers. Those people on Twitter said that the attorney general of Florida is looking into this. Indictments will fly! But if they had found anything, they would have done something right away, injunctions would fly, too. So far, crickets.

When wealthy people make a decision to help those less fortunate, and act on it, it’s not bribery, it’s kindness. We could use more of that in the world. If I choose to help someone pay their fines for a crime, that’s the free market at work. If a celebrity decides to spend some of his hard earned royalties on helping an ex-felon pay his debts to society, that gives the formerly incarcerated some hope. And that hope will very likely be returned to society in the form of service. The money earned in service by an ex-felon will pay bills that will go to the local economy, not the state. Hah. I bet you didn’t see that coming, eh?

The help being organized now to pay the debts of ex-felons just so that they can vote will barely move the needle. As the Sun Sentinel reported, half a billion dollars was owed by felons in one county alone. And that was just an estimate since no one knows for sure. Will it be enough to swing the election? I don’t know. But I won’t begrudge some kindness as bribery.

Write on.

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