With Election Day rapidly approaching, Desmond Meade’s calendar has been jam-packed with political rallies and fundraising galas. In the past few months, the Miami native has been part of a handful of panel discussions about reforming the criminal justice system, appeared as a guest on MSNBC, and headed to Washington for the Black Men and Boys Day on Capitol Hill. When Meade doesn’t have his own engagement, he’s on the campaign trail with his wife, Sheena, who is running for Florida House District 46 in Orlando. But come November, he won’t vote for her — or anyone else, for that matter. That’s because Meade is both a felon and a Floridian, two things that disqualify him from casting a ballot. Over the past few years, Meade, a 2014 graduate of Florida International University’s College of Law, has been the face of the cause in Florida, circulating a petition and making media appearances in hopes of restoring voting rights to people who have served their time. The situation is dire — like Meade, nearly a quarter of black adults in the Sunshine State are disenfranchised because of a past felony conviction, according to the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice advocacy group. By now, this phenomenon is common knowledge — break the law, lose the right to vote. But if you’re a felon whose peak earning years have stretched longer than your sentence, there’s another way to influence the political process: with cold, hard cash.
There are no restrictions preventing those with criminal backgrounds from donating to the cause or candidate of their choice. That means guys like billionaire pervert Jeffrey Epstein, who pleaded guilty to soliciting underage prostitutes at his Palm Beach mansion in 2008, can pump thousands of dollars into political campaigns for candidates for whom they can’t even vote. That’s exactly what he did in 2014, when he gave $12,600 to Gwendolyn Beck, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Virginia’s Eighth District. (Epstein later returned $10,000 after a complaint was made about a possible violation of contribution limits.)
And Epstein isn’t the only wealthy South Florida felon to have lined the pockets of politicians in recent election cycles. Since his 2002 conviction for defrauding low-income tenants at his Little Havana apartments, former Miami commissioner and Miami-Dade school board member Demetrio Perez Jr. has given thousands of dollars to conservative causes and candidates, including a 2004 donation of $19,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. (Perez’s civil rights, including the right to vote, were restored in April 2006 during Jeb Bush’s tenure as Florida governor.)