State superintendent, political consultants among 5 charged with violating state campaign laws

Hofmeister allegedly said the dark money group would handle negative ads “and allow me to take the high road with my own campaign.”

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State Education Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, political powerbroker Fount Holland and the head of the Oklahoma Education Association along with two other people were charged Thursday with conspiracy and violating state campaign laws related to Hofmeister’s 2014 campaign, records show.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater filed the charges late Thursday against the five, alleging they took part in a conspiracy to funnel corporate money through education lobbying groups to a dark money group that was supposed to remain independent from Hofmeister by law.
However, numerous texts and emails between Hofmeister and the other defendants included in an affidavit for the charges, obtained by The Frontier, suggest that did not occur.
Charged were:
  • Hofmeister, 52, who defeated then-State Superintendent Janet Barresi in 2014.
  • Holland, a political advisor and founder of AH Strategies. He claims on his website to have represented more than 100 elected officials in Oklahoma today.
  • Stephanie Milligan, 37, a political advisor to Hofmeister and officer of the Alexander Companies. The company was formed by Chad Alexander, a former lobbyist who also worked with Holland.
  • Lela Odom, 68, former executive director of the Oklahoma Education Association. The OEA lobbies for salary and benefits for education employees, as well as public education funding.
  • Steven Crawford, 67, former executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA), a not-for-profit association for Oklahoma school administrators.
The charges would be felonies that carry up to 10 years in jail if prosecutors are able to prove the five conspired to violate laws setting limits on state campaign contributions.
In a press conference late Thursday, Hofmeister denied wrongdoing and said she would defend the charges. In a statement issued by her office, she said: “I will vigorously defend my integrity and reputation against any suggestion of wrongdoing and fight the allegations that have been made against me.”
The affidavit states Hofmeister’s attorney ended an interview with the DA’s office in June after she was pressed about emails in which she appeared to have knowledge about the dark money group.
The affidavit alleges that American Fidelity, an insurance company based in Oklahoma City, contributed $50,000 to OEA and the same amount to the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration. The funds were later transferred to a third entity, Oklahomans for Public School Excellence, created to run negative ads against then-State Superintendent Janet Barresi, it states.
Officials with American Fidelity declined to participate in the dark money group and have not been accused of wrongdoing. They could not be reached for comment late Thursday.
The five conspired to use the funds to finance negative television campaign advertisements against Barresi and promote Hofmeister, a 28-page affidavit by an investigator for the DA’s office states.
Joy Hofmeister NEWSON6
Joy Hofmeister NEWSON6

In emails, Hofmeister laid out her plans to use corporations to fund attack ads against Barresi, according to the affidavit.

“He likes Chad Alexander for the independent campaign which would be where he would put CCOSA, OSSBA, OEA money, plus amounts from corporations as it would all be anonymous,” Hofmeister wrote in the 2014 email.

“This independent campaign would do be (sic) negative ads and allow me to take the high road with my own campaign.”

The investigation by Prater’s office has been in the works since at least 2014, when then-lobbyist Chad Alexander was arrested on a cocaine charge.

An investigation into State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister's campaign activities began with the arrest of political consultant Chad Alexander on a drug charge.
An investigation into State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s campaign activities began with the arrest of political consultant Chad Alexander on a drug charge.

Alexander’s cellphone and laptop were seized after he was arrested for illegally possessing cocaine in May 2014. He was also charged with illegal possession of prescription painkillers and obstructing an officer, according to court records. He pleaded guilty to the charges in August 2014 and received five years probation.

The DA’s office announced in 2014 it was reviewing text and email communications between Alexander and Hofmeister. Court records indicate Hofmeister wanted Alexander to use a type of committee known as a dark money group to finance a negative campaign ad against Barresi.

Such groups, organized as 501(c)4 entities, can raise an unlimited amount of money for campaigns and are not required to disclose their contributors. However, it is illegal for those groups to collaborate fundraising with a candidate or contribute directly to a candidate. State law limits contributions by individuals or PACs to candidate committees to $5,000 per election cycle.

The day the attack ad was paid for, Holland, Hofmeister and CCOSA’s general counsel, Ryan Owens, discussed in emails contained within the affidavit how much the group, Oklahomans For Public School Excellence, contributed to Hofmeister’s campaign.

Oklahomans For Public School Excellence is a nonprofit incorporated in May 2014 that ran ads attacking Barresi, according to The Center for Public Integrity.

“The excellence in public education group has spent 195k … And Barresi has literally 350k spent for the last week,” Holland wrote. “So I guess I’m now happy that we’re going to be even with that bitch.”

In an email to Milligan, Odom approved the attack ad and suggested a few changes.

“I love it,” Odom wrote. “Only thing that would make it better is if the picture of Janet was worse than this one.”

The emails show Hofmeister’s knowledge of the upcoming attack ads days before they were scheduled to air, the affidavit states.

Crawford and Odom denied direct involvement with the independent expenditure group, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit also mentions Hofmeister’s campaign’s “frantic effort” to answer questions from Oklahoma Watch reporter Cliff Adcock on what Hofmeister knew about the independent expenditure group that financed the attack ads.

In July 2014, Oklahoma Watch reported the group hadn’t filed required spending reports with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

A spokeswoman for Hofmeister’s campaign told Adcock that Hofmeister didn’t discuss the creation of the group with anyone or about independent expenditures to benefit her campaign.

“The evidence shows this was not truthful,” the affidavit says. “The evidence shows that the campaign coordinated with the independent expenditure/electioneering communication resulting in the expenditures being in-kind contributions from corporations and in excess of campaign donation limits.”

In addition to detailing communications between the defendants, the affidavit contains emails and references to numerous people who were not charged but were involved in conversations and are listed as witnesses.

Included in that list are former Secretary of State Glenn Coffee; campaign consultant Trebor Worthen; Phyllis Hudecki, former Secretary of Education under Gov. Mary Fallin, and former Jenks Public Schools Superintendent Kirby Lehman.

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Ziva Branstetter

Editor in Chief / Staff Writer

Ziva maintains she was always too nosy to be anything other than a reporter. Though she's on a new adventure with The Frontier, she spent more than 25 years in the newspaper business, making politicians nervous and making sure readers got the truth. Contact: ziva@readfrontier.com or 918-520-0406.
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