Joy Hofmeister

A legal defense fund has been formed for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who is charged with conspiring to evade campaign finance laws during her 2014 bid for office.

The special-function committee, the “Joy Hofmeister Defense Fund,” which was approved Thursday by the state Ethics Commission, is the first of its kind to focus on raising funds for an elected official’s legal entanglements. Special-function committees are often used to collect donations for conferences and events, such as the Oklahoma Speaker’s Ball.

Prior to 2015, officials were permitted to use campaign funds to pay legal bills, the Ethics Commission said. But a rule change now requires elected state officials to create a separate fund for legal fees, both criminal and civil.

The committee can accept contributions from individuals, partnerships, companies, corporations and labor unions, and the amount of contributions is unlimited. The committee is required to file quarterly reports.

Hofmeister was charged in November with two felonies: one for knowingly accepting campaign contributions that exceeded the maximum amounts set by law, and the other for accepting contributions from a corporation, which is illegal.

Hofmeister denies wrongdoing and has vowed to fight the charges in court. A hearing is set for Aug. 16-18 for Hofmeister and four co-defendants: Fount Holland, co-founder of political consulting firm A.H. Strategies, which managed Hofmeister’s campaign; Lela Odom, then-director of the Oklahoma Education Association; Steven Crawford, former executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators; and Stephanie Milligan, who ran the day-to-day operations of Oklahoman for Public School Excellence, a nonprofit advocacy group formed to help Hofmeister get elected.

Attorney Gary Wood, who is representing Hofmeister, did not immediately return a call for comment.

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