EXCLUSIVE – TThe Democratic nominee, who is running for Oklahoma’s next governor, appears to have “violated” several state laws over her social media activities, legal experts said Washington Examiner.
Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma’s superintendent of public education, is trying to unseat Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt in November. But Hofmeister may be violating ethics laws because her government website links to her campaign’s social media accounts and the government appears to have promoted her Twitter posts, according to campaign finance lawyers.
Hofmeister’s page on the Oklahoma Department of Education website links to her gubernatorial campaign accounts Twitter and Facebook according to a Washington Examiner Review Thursday. Her Twitter handle is “Joy4OK” and her Facebook account is listed under “JoyforOklahoma,” while both accounts share footage of campaign events and ads, as is customary for political candidates.
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That Washington Examiner Aside from Hofmeister, could not find examples of other Oklahoma government officials linking to their campaign social media accounts on the pages.
Oklahoma law states that a person shall not campaign for elections by “using public funds, property, or time to engage in activities designed to influence the results of an election for a state office or a state issue.” In addition, officials are prohibited from engaging in public activities “intended to influence the results of an election for state office” or “publishing materials advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.” , according to the Oklahoma Ethics Committee .
“Secretary Hofmeister likely violated Oklahoma’s ethics laws by using her official, state-funded biography website to promote her campaign,” said Curtis Schube, a Dhillon Law Group attorney specializing in voting rights. “Specifically, her bio page includes links to her social media account and campaign website dedicated to promoting her candidacy for office.”
Chris Winkelman, also a voting law attorney at Holtzman Vogel, went one step further. He told that Washington Examiner that the links to the social media accounts “also may violate Oklahoma criminal law.”
In Oklahoma, it is illegal for public officials to “directly or indirectly coerce, coerce, command, advise, or direct” any government official to pay or donate “to any party, committee, organization, agency, or person for political purposes.”
“These laws are designed not only to protect taxpayers’ money from embezzlement, but also to protect state employees from feeling pressured to endorse their boss politically,” said Winkelman, a past general counsel of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
According to Schube and Winkelman, however, Hofmeister’s possible violations of Oklahoma law go beyond their page, which links to their campaign’s social media accounts. There is numerous cases where the The Oklahoma Department of Education Twitter account has both retweeted Hofmeister’s campaign account and tagged their campaign, a review of the posts found.
That could violate an ethics law, which stipulates that unless permitted by law, officials must not use newsletters or informational materials to advocate the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidates, the lawyers said.
“The cross-promotion of this campaign’s social media accounts from official channels gives the impression that the weight of their entire government agency is behind their candidacy themselves,” Winkelman said.
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Hofmeister is no stranger to controversy. She was criminally charged with campaign finance and conspiracy violations in 2017 after allegedly illegally raising money while running against incumbent Republican Superintendent Janet Barresi and collaborating with a dark money group. The charges were later dropped.
The race between Hofmeister and Stitt has intensified in recent months. Hofmeister led Stitt by 7 percentage points in a poll released Oct. 17 by Oklahoma-based policy consultancy Ascend Action. 638 likely voters for the primary were surveyed.
Hofmeister’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.