Oklahoma Education Department defends hosting possibly illegal campaign page links – Washington Examiner

Oklahoma Education Department defends hosting possibly illegal campaign page links – Washington Examiner

Oklahoma’s Education Department is defending its prior hosting of social media links for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Joy Hofmeister’s campaign despite the government scrubbing them after a Washington Examiner report.
Hofmeister is Oklahoma’s superintendent of public instruction, and on Thursday, the department removed links from her government page to Twitter and Facebook accounts used for her campaign against Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt. Hofmeister may have “violated” multiple state laws by nature of those links being on her website, campaign finance lawyers said.
The department confirmed to the Washington Examiner on Thursday evening that it removed the links. However, it claimed there was no foul play.
“No secret that this is political season,” said Brad Clark, general counsel for the Education Department. “Also no secret that lawyers have opinions. Quite clear here that out-of-state partisan interests have expressed an opinion for purposes of an election.”
“It is unfortunate and also an incorrect opinion,” Clark continued. “In the interest of getting this distraction out of the way, any link to Twitter has been removed. We are focused on students, families and Oklahoma communities.”
It is illegal in Oklahoma for someone to campaign with “the use of public funds, property or time to engage in activities designed to influence the results of an election for state office or a state question.” It is also illegal for officials to engage in activities “designed to influence the results of an election for state office” on public time or posting “materials that advocate for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate,” according to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
Curtis Schube, a lawyer at the Dhillon Law Group who specializes in election law, said Hofmeister has “likely violated” ethics laws since she used her taxpayer-funded page on the website to “promote her election campaign.”
Another lawyer, Chris Winkleman, told the Washington Examiner Hofmeister could have violated criminal law.
It is criminally illegal for public officials in the state to “directly or indirectly coerce, attempt to coerce, command, advise, or direct any state employees” to pay or contribute “to any party, committee, organization, agency or person for political purposes.”
“These laws are in place not only to protect taxpayer funds from being misappropriated but also to protect state employees from feeling pressured into providing political support for their boss,” said Winkelman, a lawyer at Holtzman Vogel who also specializes in election law and was previously general counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The Education Department did not respond to a follow-up email asking for clarification on why it removed the links.
“Like a career politician, Democrat State Superintendent Hofmeister and her team are spinning Oklahomans in circles with this hollow response and avoiding responsibility,” Donelle Harder, campaign manager for Stitt, told the Washington Examiner.
Hofmeister’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.


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