Oklahoma Count District Attorney David Prater filed charges against State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and four others Thursday for campaign violations. The charges stem from a 2014 investigation examining whether Hofmeister used a “super PAC” or dark money group to attack her campaign opponent, Janet Barresi.
According to court documents show the investigation reveals a conspiracy to commit campaign contribution violations and illegal coordination by members of a registered 501c4 called Oklahomans for Public School Excellence (OPSE), the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA), the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) and Joy Hofmeister. The three groups are registered with the state as corporations.
Documents state the group coordinated to fund an Independent Expenditure (IE) by funneling money from a donor corporation through CCOSA and the OEA, into the OPSE. Bank records indicate $300,000 was donated to OPSE. According to legal documents, numerous text messages and emails show Hofmeister was very much aware of and involved in the creation and funding of OPSE. The fund's primary purpose, investigators discovered, was to fund a negative ad campaign against incumbent Superintendent Barresi.
Hofmeister is charged with violating campaign laws limiting contributions to candidates and prohibiting contributions by corporations. She also faces two counts of conspiracy to commit felony. Hofmeister was investigated for violation of the Computer Crimes act, but was not charged in that area.
Campaign laws prohibit donations larger than $5,000 from any contributor and prohibit a candidate from accepting contributions from corporations.
In response to the charges, Hofmeister released a statement saying:
"I will vigorously defend my integrity and reputation against any suggestion of wrongdoing and fight the allegations that have been made against me. Three years ago, I made the decision to enter the world of politics for the first time, because as a mother, state school board member, and small business owner, I saw a need in our state’s public education system for leadership focused on improving opportunities for Oklahoma’s children. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. At the onset of my campaign, I made a commitment to myself and my supporters that as a candidate and public servant, I would reflect certain values, including transparency, trustworthiness and above all, integrity. I am confident that my actions throughout my campaign more than two years ago were consistent with these values and in compliance with the law. Today, I ask of my team at the State Department of Education – including our board, the Oklahoma education community, those who supported my campaign, Oklahomans, and my family and friends to believe in me and to know that the person they’ve seen work so effectively, and with the highest standards, to make education better, is also someone who would never jeopardize their trust. So I will fight these charges, but I will not be distracted. The state of Oklahoma, our parents and children, deserve my continued focus, and they will have it. We have accomplished so much in 20 short months, and there is much more to be done. I look forward to continuing to work on improving the educational opportunities for Oklahoma’s schoolchildren now and for many years to come."
Hofmeister campaign consultant, Stephanie Dawn Milligan, CCOSA Executive Director Steven Crawford, former OEA Executive Director Lela Odom, and owner of AH Strategies Fount Holland also face charges. Each is charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit felony.
The investigation began two years ago after the arrest of Chad Alexander on drug complaints. Alexander is a political consultant who worked with Holland. A forensic examination of Alexander's phone apparently turned up emails and text messages that were the first indications of alleged collusion between Hofmeister and independent money. According to court documents, investigators did interview Hofmeister this past June and she denied having any specific knowledge about the OPSE's ad strategy.
Governor Mary Fallin responded Thursday in a statement. She says, “I haven’t had a chance to review the charges. There’s a criminal justice system in place to review the allegations. We should respect the process and allow it to work as designed."
Thursday evening, Hofmeister's attorney stated she will "continue to serve as State Superintendent of Public Education. She will not resign."