State Superintendent Accused of Felony Campaign Violations

Oklahoma Department of Education superintendent Joy Hofmeister turned herself in to authorities and was released on $8,000 bond after being accused of accepting illegal donations during her 2014 campaign against incumbent Janet Barresi. 

Hofmeister faces four felony charges: two counts of conspiracy and two counts involving campaign violations.

According to reports, Hofmeister used a "dark money" group, Oklahomans for Public School Excellence, to illegally accept excessive donations and corporate donations. Dark money groups are not compelled to identify their donors, and reports say Hofmeister allowed illegal campaign donations through this group.

Hofmeister denies any wrongdoing, saying, "I will vigorously defend my integrity and reputation against any suggestion of wrongdoing, and I will fight the allegations that have been made against me."

Charged along with the state schools superintendent are four others suspected of involvement of the alleged conspiracy. These include Fount Holland, 53, Hofmeister's chief campaign consultant; Stephanie Dawn Milligan, 37, political consultant for Oklahomans for Public School Excellence; Lela Odom, 68, former Executive Director of the Oklahoma Education Association; and Steven Crawford, 67, former Executive Director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration.

Investigators say Odom and Crawford created and funded the dark money group, while Hofmeister, Holland, and Milligan conspired with them to give and accept illegal donations to Hofmeister's campaign against Barresi.

According to the chief investigator for Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, the primary donors to the dark money group were the Oklahoma Education Association and the Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administration, who submitted $300,000, which included a $100,000 corporate donation.

The investigator wrote in an affidavit, "The conspirators used these funds to finance a negative campaign ad focused on Hofmeister's opponent, Janet Barresi. Such expenditures are required to be made independently and without coordination with a candidate ... to avoid becoming illegal corporate and/or excessive contributions to the candidate."

The District Attorney's Office says that the evidence against Hofmeister is "significant" and includes emails in which Hofmeister appears to acknowledge the illegal donations through the dark money group and allegedly shows that the two groups shared information, making the "independent" dark money group anything but independent.

Reports say Hofmeister has already begun raising funds for the 2018 race for state schools superintendent. One reported donor is also listed as a prosecution witness against her.

The co-defendants in the case are expected to turn themselves in to authorities and plead not guilty this week.

Image credit: Oklahoma Department of Education