Jay Chilton | March 30, 2017
OEA, OSSBA won’t donate to Hofmeister legal defense fund
By Jay Chilton, CIJ
OKLAHOMA CITY — On Feb. 23, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission approved a special function committee named the “Joy Hofmeister Defense Fund.” The state’s largest teachers’ union and school board association both said they will not donate to the state Superintendent’s legal defense fund.
However, the leading organization for Oklahoma public school administrators, an insurance company which donated to the independent campaign accused of colluding with Hofmeister’s campaign, and the public school advocacy organization Stand for Children have all declined to comment on the matter.
Felony Charges Related to Campaign
On Nov. 3, 2016, state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister was indicted on felony charges of conspiracy and campaign finance violations, including accepting contributions in excess of the legal maximum, accepting corporate contributions, and violation of the computer crimes act.
The complaint filed by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater lists multiple individuals who allegedly participated in funding and advising the official Hofmeister campaign, Friends of Joy Hofmeister 2014, and an independent advocacy group, Oklahomans for Public School Excellence. The affidavit claims there was illegal cooperation and collusion between the two groups.
Four other individuals associated with Hofmeister’s campaign for state superintendent were also charged in Oklahoma County District Court. Those four are Stephanie Dawn Milligan, the consultant who ran the independent expenditure campaign, Oklahomans for Public School Excellence; Steven Crawford, then executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration (CCOSA); Lela Odom, then director of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA); and Robert Fount Holland, founder of the political consulting group A.H. Strategies, which ran Hofmeister’s official campaign.
CIJ asked some of the organizations alleged to have coordinated with the Hofmeister campaign in their donations to Oklahomans for Public School Excellence if they intend to donate to the defense fund.
OEA, OSSBA Will Not Donate; CCOSA, American Fidelity, Stand for Children Mum
OEA communications specialist Doug Folks told CIJ that he does not expect the OEA to donate to the legal defense fund. “I doubt that we would,” he said. “We don’t have a fund for that. We don’t have a budget to do that.”
When asked what fund was used to donate to Oklahomans for Public School Excellence, he explained that those dollars came from a separate fund.
“We have a political action committee,” he said, “the Fund for Children and Public Education. But it is used to support pro-public-education candidates. Any expenditures for that are recommended by the fund committee and then approved by our board of directors.”
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) likewise does not intend to contribute. “The answer to your question is ‘no,’” OSSBA communications director Christy Watson told CIJ. “We have no plans to donate to the fund.”
CIJ also contacted Serena Watson, CCOSA’s marketing, communications, and conference logistics coordinator. She told CIJ she would “look into” the question, but has not responded.
CIJ contacted Martin Ramirez, communications director with Stand for Children-Oklahoma. He told CIJ, “Let me get back with you on that,” but has not responded.
Amber England, executive director for the Oklahoma chapter of Stand for Children, a national public school advocacy organization, and Melissa Abdo, Tulsa city director for the organization and a Jenks school board member, have been a vocal advocates for Hofmeister and personal donors to her 2018 campaign following news of her indictment.
CIJ made multiple calls to American Fidelity, an insurance company mentioned prominently in the indictment as allegedly funneling dollars through CCOSA and OEA to the independent campaign. The calls were answered by voicemail and not returned.
Contributions and expenditures reports from the Oklahoma Ethics Commission show that the “Friends of Joy Hofmeister 2014” committee reported no funds received for the second or third quarter reporting periods of 2016.
However, the third quarter reporting period of 2016 for the “Friends of Joy Hofmeister 2018” committee reported $17,330.00 in contributions from individuals. Of the 45 contributors listed, eight were public school superintendents, three were public school administrative staffers, and three were employees of CCOSA, including former executive director, Ryan Owens, who is listed as a witness for the prosecution in the indictment.
The third quarter reporting period of 2016 included all activities in the months of July, August, and September, with the fourth quarter beginning on Oct. 1, only 34 days prior to the filing of the indictment. The fourth quarter report shows only one contributor, Melissa Abdo, in the amount of $100 on Dec. 4, 2016.
Historically, special function committees filed with the ethics commission have been used for fundraising activities associated with events, conferences, summits, or similar activities. Some of the current special function committees filed with the ethics commission include the Joseph Harp Correctional Center Employee Council Christmas Party, the Governor’s Annual Water Conference Sponsors, the state Department of Education’s EngageOK, and the Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball.
Hofmeister’s legal defense fund is the first time such a special function committee has been used in Oklahoma to pay the legal defense costs for an elected official under criminal indictment.
The first contribution reports for the Joy Hofmeister Defense Fund are due April 30. Although Hofmeister’s campaign for office was limited to contributions from individuals giving no more than $5,000—one of the laws she is currently charged with violating—the legal defense fund committee can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, partnerships, companies, corporations, and labor unions.
Jay Chilton is a multiple-award-winning photojournalist including the Oklahoma Press Association’s Photo of the Year in 2013. His previous service as an intelligence operative for the U.S. Army, retail and commercial sales director, oil-field operator and entrepreneur in three different countries on two continents and across the U.S. lends a wide experience and context helping him produce well-rounded and complete stories. Jay’s passion is telling stories. He strives to place the reader in the seat, at the event, or on the sideline allowing the reader to experience an event through his reporting. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma with a minor in photographic arts. Jay and his wife live in Midwest City with three dogs and innumerable koi enjoying frequent visits from their children.