State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister pleaded not guilty Friday morning to two counts of conspiracy to commit a felony, as well as charges of campaign contributions by a prohibited corporation, and violating limits on campaign contributions to candidates.
Updated Nov. 4, 11:13 a.m.
Hofmeister appeared in an Oklahoma County courtroom. She was also booked and released from the Oklahoma County Jail shortly after 9:30 a.m.. A preliminary hearing was set for December 13.
Hofmeister was charged Thursday with multiple felonies for violating campaign fundraising laws. Hofmeister denies any wrongdoing and said she will fight the charges.
“I will vigorously defend my integrity and reputation against any suggestion of wrongdoing and I will fight these allegations that have been made against me,” Hofmeister said at a press conference Thursday evening.
My statement is below.
I will fight these charges. pic.twitter.com/vh3zp4kAs5
— Joy Hofmeister (@joy4ok) November 3, 2016
Prosecutors are accusing her of illegally conspiring with, and accepting donations from, a “dark money” group — Oklahomans for Public School Excellence — during her 2014 campaign for state superintendent.
Four others have been charged with conspiracy counts in the case.
State law prohibits candidates from collaborating with dark money groups because they do not have to disclose their donors and can spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns. Candidates, however, cannot receive contributions in excess of $5,000, and must reveal who their donors are.
Expenditures made by “dark money” groups are also known as “independent expenditures.” These expenditures advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate. Such expenditures are required, by law, to be made independently and without coordination with a candidate.
An investigation by the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office alleges Hofmeister’s campaign worked closely with Oklahomans for Public School Excellence to produce an attack ad against her opponent at the time — Janet Barresi.
The 28-page affidavit alleges members of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA), Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), and Hofmeister funneled money from a donor corporation – American Fidelity — to the “dark money” group, Oklahomans for Public School Excellence, which then used the funds to finance the negative campaign ad.
Investigators got much of their information by reviewing numerous emails and text communications. One email between Hofmeister and Jenks Public Schools Superintendent, Kirby Lehman, states that Hofmeister had met with Glenn Coffee, a former Senate president pro tem and Secretary of State, for political advice when beginning her campaign.
Coffee urged Hofmeister to seek out Chad Alexander, and use him to run an independent campaign on Hofmeister’s behalf.
Hofmeister wrote to Lehman, “… He [Coffee] 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. This independent campaign would do be negative ads and allow me to take the high road with my own campaign.”