Defamed Candidate Gets Apology, but Not Answers - Texas Scorecard

One of the perpetrators behind a nasty political smear campaign was forced to issue a public retraction and apology to a candidate he defamed, but the source of money that funded his attacks remains unknown.

As part of a settlement in the defamation lawsuit filed against him, former Frisco school board president and city council member Cyril William “Buddy” Minett retracted false statements he made about Jeff Snowden, then a candidate for Frisco Independent School District’s board of trustees.

The retraction came two years after Minett targeted Snowden with defamatory mailers during Snowden’s campaign for school board in May 2017. Snowden was challenging an incumbent and had also opposed the district’s plan to raise property taxes, making him unpopular with district insiders.

The Lies

In the final weeks before the election, just ahead of early voting, false claims appeared on Facebook and in campaign mailers that Snowden had been arrested, pleaded guilty, and spent 90 days in jail for serving alcohol to minors—none of which is true. The mailers even showed a fake “inmate number” for Snowden.

Snowden sued Minett for defamation after linking him to the malicious mailers via a political action committee called Frisco Citizens for Campaign Integrity, which launched the attacks on Snowden in April 2017. The PAC failed to file disclosure paperwork prior to the election, but the company that produced the mailers identified Minett as the person handling the order on behalf of FCCI, and invoices for the mailers went to the post office box of Minett’s deceased in-laws.

Ed Valentine of Valentine Direct Marketing testified in a pre-trial deposition that Minett was responsible for the content of the mailer, though the mailer didn’t include Minett’s name or identify him in any way.

Yet in an earlier conversation, Valentine said “a credible group” comprised of “pillars of the community” was behind the mailer, according to Jeff Gray, who spoke with Valentine a couple of weeks after Snowden lost the election. Gray, who served with Snowden on Frisco ISD’s Priorities-Based Budgeting Board in 2017, said Valentine told him the group included current and former city council and school board members, including ex-presidents of the board—people he had “known for many years” and who were very involved in Frisco politics.

“The bottom line for me is that, prior to any lawsuits being filed, Mr. Valentine verified to me that there were several people involved in this, and so far, we only have Buddy Minett confessing,” Gray told Texas Scorecard. “So, there are more shoes to drop.”

Asked what might motivate a group of political insiders to fight so hard for a school board seat, Gray noted that Frisco ISD is the largest employer in the city and controls over $700 million in spending each year.

After a two-year legal battle, Snowden proved his case that Minett had defamed him, establishing “by clear and convincing evidence” Minett’s “actual malice” in producing and distributing the false campaign mailers.

The Truth

As part of a settlement agreement reached in the case, Minett’s court-ordered retraction and apology was published on May 17, 2019—on page 11A of a local media outlet:

A message to Frisco Voters:

During the 2017 local elections for FISD Trustee, Frisco voters and others were provided with misinformation on candidate Jeffory G. Snowden.  Specifically, a political action committee called Frisco Citizens for Campaign Integrity claimed that Mr. Snowden had been arrested for serving alcohol to a minor and assigned an inmate number. These claims were based on information obtained from online sources. However, I now accept these sources were erroneous and that these accusations are incorrect. I hereby retract the statements and apologize to Mr. Snowden and his family. I want to thank Mr. Snowden for his 10 years of service to Frisco on various boards and committees and encourage him to continue to serve our community in the future.

Yours truly,
Cyril William Minett, Jr.

As detailed in the appellate court opinion affirming Snowden’s defamation complaint (see page 6), the truth is that while Snowden was a college student working as a bartender in 1990, he and his fellow employees were ticketed when a TABC agent saw a minor drinking alcohol at the bar. Snowden was never arrested or jailed, and he pleaded not guilty in response to the citation. Minett never bothered to contact Snowden or otherwise verify the facts of the incident.

“I think it’s about time Jeff Snowden and family received this apology for the defamatory statements made about him just before early voting in the 2017 FISD election,” former Frisco ISD Trustee Steve Noskin responded on Facebook to Minett’s retraction. “Jeff’s sound financial plan would have greatly benefited all stakeholders in our community. I hope Jeff is successful in his pursuit of eliminating this type of nastiness existing in Frisco politics and eventually identifying the source of funding for this type of behavior.”

Snowden believes people connected to Minett financed FCCI, which spent at least $8,900 on the defamatory mailers, and may have violated Texas Election Code to hide their tracks.

Following the Money

In May 2018, Snowden sued Brian Ravkind, Megan DeWolfe, and Tracy Gamble—all of whom were associated with Minett, FCCI, and related PACs—alleging false campaign reports were filed to hide the identities of the people who defamed him during the election.

Campaign finance reports filed two months after the election listed Ravkind as the sole contributor to FCCI. Ravkind, a young campaign consultant who lives in Arlington, claimed he “sent the mailers on his own accord” using thousands of dollars of his own money because Frisco citizens “deserved to know” about Snowden’s “record.” Ravkin describes his RavKorp Consulting as “the Mike Tyson of grassroots consulting groups.”

DeWolfe, who is Minett’s daughter and a Frisco ISD teacher, was treasurer of two other political action committees and used them to funnel money to Valentine Direct Marketing, the company that printed and distributed FCCI’s defamatory mailers. Minett served as notary for both of DeWolfe’s PACs and signed off on forms documenting their transactions.

DeWolfe’s Yes to Frisco Teachers PAC supported the district’s failed 2016 ballot measure to raise school property taxes. Frisco Parents and Teachers PAC was formed in 2017 to support two school board incumbents: Snowden’s Place 4 opponent Anne McCausland and Place 5 incumbent Debbie Gillespie. DeWolfe diverted over $1,300 from Yes to Frisco Teachers to Frisco Parents and Teachers, which then made a payment to Valentine.

Gamble, a Frisco political consultant, made an individual donation of $8,500 to Frisco Parents and Teachers using the assumed name Frisco Strong PAC. Gamble’s money apparently also went toward the mailers, but the incomplete and missing campaign finance reports that are the subject of Snowden’s lawsuit make it difficult to follow the money.

On the Defensive

DeWolfe responded to Snowden’s suit by starting a GoFundMe account, claiming she was sued for “being a teacher and pro-education.” She also suggested Snowden was “receiving the help of Empower Texans” in the litigation—a falsehood quickly corrected by Empower Texans as well as Snowden and his attorney in the case, Warren Norred.

“I’m Empower Texans’ general counsel,” Tony McDonald advised DeWolfe in a comment on her fundraising site. “We’re not involved in the litigation against you. I’m not overly familiar with the case, but this kind of reckless disregard for the truth might be why you’re getting sued.”

Neither Texas Scorecard’s publisher Empower Texans, nor Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, which endorsed Snowden in 2017, have given money to Snowden or his campaign.

“Empower Texans has never given me a nickel, nor have they ever funded my attorney, who is known for his lawsuits regarding government transparency,” Snowden responded to DeWolfe’s insinuation. “Empower Texans endorsed me in the race, most likely due to my proposal to channel more revenue to Teachers and less to Administrators while avoiding a proposed tax increase via a taxpayer neutral swap.”

“I don’t work for Empower Texans, which has never given me money,” Norred noted in an August 2018 summary of the ongoing case describing how the “nearly worthless” Texas Ethics Commission had declined to sanction DeWolfe’s behavior.

Having proven who led the defamatory smear campaign against him—though far too late to affect the outcome of his election—why does Snowden continue to pursue those who helped coordinate and finance Minett’s attacks? By exposing the dirty tactics and the people willing to use them, Norred said, Snowden’s goal is to “demonstrate that the defendants were wrong to use these tactics and discourage such strategies in the future.”

Frisco voters expect and deserve honesty and transparency.