Editor’s note:  Please see the updates to this story, listed near the bottom.

By STEVE SOUTHWELL

Carolyn Wright touts her nonprofit experience in her campaign for Lewisville City Council, but public records show the name under which she operates her organization actually belongs to a for–profit Texas corporation that has had its charter suspended. 

The nonprofit she does own was formed for a different purpose on the same day as the for-profit, and has not filed a required IRS form 990 since the 2014 tax year.  It appears she has also violated IRS regulations by using the nonprofit’s voice to promote her candidacy.

Carolyn Wright is in a runoff election for the city council. With five candidates in the race for Place 1, Wright and Bob Troyer got the most votes and will face each other at the polls again on June 10.

Wright listed herself as the CEO of a nonprofit in her campaign filing. In earlier interviews and in campaign literature, Wright said she is the founder and CEO of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and non-governmental organization A-WOW, Inc.

At the request of readers who contacted The Lewisville Texan Journal to inquire about the charity, we took a closer look at the organization to try to understand it.  We also reached out to Carolyn Wright by phone, text and email for answers about the organization.

The footer of many A-WOW web pages mention A-WOW Inc. being a 501(c)(3)

According to one of the organization’s three current websites, awownow.org, its mission involves cultural exchange and leadership development for girls ages 16 to 24.  The organization’s website refers to its corporate name as A–WOW, Inc., and says that it is a 501(c)(3) and registered NGO. Other websites for the organization are global.awow.us and myawow.blogspot.com.

A-WOW, Inc. — Nonprofit or not?

We checked with the IRS, the government agency tasked with awarding 501(c)(3) status. IRS publishes lists of tax-exempt nonprofits and has an online search engine. A–WOW, Inc. was not on the list as a 501(c)(3). We tried various other ways of spelling the name.

Instead a search of A-WOW with the Texas Comptroller and the Texas Secretary of State found that A–WOW, Incorporated was formed by Wright in 2009 as a Texas for-profit corporation and registered to her home address.  In 2010, Wright filed an assumed name certificate with the Denton County Clerk claiming the name “A–WOW Academy,” listing herself personally as the owner but stating that it was to be run as a corporation.

She filed Texas Franchise Tax returns and public information reports for A–WOW until August of 2015, listing herself as president and the sole officer.

The Secretary of State revoked for-profit A-WOW’s corporate charter on Jan. 27 of this year at the direction of the Texas Comptroller.  The letter stated  that A–WOW had not revived its privileges within the 120 days allowed.  State law allows forfeiture of corporate charters when companies fail to file or pay their state franchise tax or do not permit the comptroller to examine their records.

Figuring that A–WOW must stand for something, we dug further to see if another name existed.  We found “Arch Work of Wellness” described in a now–defunct 2009 blog at awow-dallas.blogspot.com.  

The post there uses both the AWOW and Arch Work of Wellness names. The blog referred to the organization as a community wellness center, a nutritional health and mental cleanse center and a community health center. The post said the mission was to “provide comprehensive nutritional health care and mental cleansing services to the community with a particular focus on the undeserved [sic].”

The website described the center as providing paid care as a private nonprofit, utilizing a “sliding fee scale,” but with a definition that differs from the common usage. Sliding scale typically means that fees vary depending on the client’s ability to pay. In this case, AWOW defined it as a discount based on the number of family members enrolled at the center.

The Texas Secretary of State shows that Arch Work of Wellness, Inc., was incorporated in May of 2009 as a nonprofit organization intending to attain 501(c)(3) status.  The initial filing shows a board of three people including Wright. By April  2011, it had similarly forfeited its charter, but a filing from May 2011 shows that Wright revived it by taking care of the delinquency. The last public information report, also from May 2011 shows Wright as the only director.

The IRS lists Arch Work of Wellness as a 501(c)(3) charity public health program, with Carolyn Wright as the principal officer.  Both Wright and the organization list a Carrollton P.O. Box as their address.

Nonprofits that raise less than $50,000 per year are required to file form 990-N with the IRS each year by May 15 for the prior year.  Arch Work of Wellness filed those for tax years 2011 through 2014 but no reports are listed for 2015, and 2016 is not yet due. Under IRS regulations, an organization failing to file form 990 for three years would have its nonprofit status revoked automatically.

None of the websites for A-WOW or Arch Work of Wellness have any annual reports, financial statements or forms 990 that LTJ could locate.  

Wright posted a 2016 annual report for AWOW on LinkedIn. That report lists a variety of activities for the year and asks the reader for a donation.  The annual report brings up another corporate name: AWOW Global Initiative Inc. That name is not found in the Texas Secretary of State’s database.

The relationship between the nonprofit and for-profit entities was not clear, but the AWOW 2016 Young Women Leadership World Summit application included the option to make a check for the $700 tuition to “AWOW Inc.”

In an email received after our print deadline for this story, Wright responded that A-WOW, Inc was a defunct business that never came into being.  She said that Arch Work of Wellness was a certified 501(c)(3) and that all of its filings were current.  She did not provide a form 990 or other reports with her answers.

Asked about the organization’s fundraising and expenses, Wright said the organization is staffed by volunteer labor and is sourced through in-kind contributions of “products, talent, mentorship and youth development.”  She did not provide a list of donors.  The Lewisville Texan Journal found that A-WOW websites, Facebook and LinkedIn pages have links to Paypal forms for monetary donations.

We asked Wright if A-WOW ever operated a health clinic, and she said it had not.  “Arch Work of Wellness provides coaching in the areas of holistic approach for mind, body, and soul,” Wright wrote. “We provide coaching in the areas of wellness of health, encourage female success, youth development, and provide a support system for female leaders.”  The National Center for Charitable Statistics lists Arch Work of Wellness with an NTEE code of “E70 – Public Health.”

Wright said A-WOW did not operate in combination with any for-profit companies. Wright wrote, “Arch Work of Wellness collaborates in partnership with various centers, other youth development organizations, and institutions, such as University of North Texas, Harmony Academy, and Future Without Poverty for the purpose of program activities.”

A Facebook post by Awow Igli, and account used by Wright’s nonprofit Arch Work of Wellness endorsed her.

Promoting candidacy with A-WOW resources

IRS regulations strictly prohibit 501(c)(3) organizations from promoting any candidate for public office, but Wright has used A-WOW resources for her campaign.

Wright’s campaign website used* the organization’s domain name awow.us, which is hosted at the same internet address as the A-WOW nonprofit website. (*See update)

Wright has also used the nonprofit organization’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote her candidacy.

There are two Facebook entities used by A–WOW:  A user account “Awow Igli,” and a Facebook page “A-Wow IGLI.” The user account lists the page as its employer. IGLI stands for International Girl Leadership Initiative, according to the A-WOW website.

Awow Igli often posts A-WOW related materials. LTJ found seven campaign-related posts for Wright from March through May of this year.  The posts ranged from campaign logos and photos of Wright to hashtags like #ElectWrightTheRightChoice, #Vote4Wright and #LetsGetWrightElected.

 

A Twitter post from @awowigli promotes Carolyn Wright for City Council.

A Facebook page called A-Wow IGLI, the same page that shows up as the employer for Awow Igli, had one campaign-related post on it for Wright.

A-WOW’s Twitter account, @awowigli had three posts from April and May, including one thanking her former opponent Penny Mallet for endorsing her campaign in the runoff election.

From the IRS website:

“Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.“

Violations under the rule can result in an organization losing its tax–exempt nonprofit status.

Waiting on a response

When this story began to develop early this week, The Lewisville Texan Journal contacted Carolyn Wright by telephone, email and text message.  Wright said she was overbooked and attending a conference through Sunday. We asked for clarification about how A-WOW operates, and whether it works in combination with for-profit companies.  We requested the most recent IRS form 990 and any other documents and information about A–WOW. As of press time for the print edition of this story, Wright had not answered any of the questions, but she did respond with some answers Friday night. Her responses to the first set of questions are included in the first section of this article.  We sent followup questions Saturday morning, and welcome any information that A-WOW can provide to clarify their standing.

Bob Troyer

In the interest of fairness, LTJ also looked into Wright’s opponent, Bob Troyer.  Troyer works for Autosig Systems, Inc. doing software development support, but also operates his own side–business RDTronics as a sole proprietorship.  RDTronics is an assumed name, filed with the Denton County Clerk for a 10–year period in June 2007.  He will need to renew it before the end of this month.

Troyer’s business has a website at www.rdtronics.com and Twitter account @rdtronics, which serves as his personal account.  Troyer also created a campaign Twitter account @ElectTroyer.  Both tweet infrequently, but Troyer has used his personal account to tweet campaign–related content.  There is no restriction against a sole proprietor advocating for a political candidate.

The Lewisville Texan Journal searched the backgrounds of both candidates for civil and criminal records and did not find anything of significant interest.

This story has been modified from the print version to include responses from Carolyn Wright received after our print deadline. Additional questions have been answered in part below in the updates.

Update 5/18/2017:

Wright notified us this afternoon that she had severed the connections between her campaign and Arch Work of Wellness.  The former campaign website at awow.us held a test page instead.

Wright reiterated that A-WOW, Inc, the for-profit corporation that had been registered in 2009 never conducted any business, and is now defunct.  She also indicated that she believed AWOW, Inc. was another way to say Arch Work of Wellness, Inc.

Her campaign information can now be found on a Facebook page.

Update 5/14/2017:

  • We asked why the A-WOW website does not list the nonprofit’s legal (corporate) name of Arch Work of Wellness, and if Wright could see how it would be confusing to use the name of a for-profit corporation with a nonprofit. Without the full name, it would be impossible to confirm the 501(c)(3) with the IRS website.
    • Wright’s response:  “AWOW International Girls Leadership Initiative is a flagship program of Arch Work of Wellness 501 (c) 3 vs. A-WOW, Inc a defunct company that never came into being therefore there is no such “for-profit” that exist.”
    • Editor’s note: Legally, A-WOW, Inc did exist as a for-profit until January of this year, according to the Texas Secretary of State.
  • We asked why the website says  “A-WOW INC. a 501 c 3 and NGO” and why it is using the for-profit corporation’s name.
    • Wright’s response: “We are not using a for-profit corporation’s name. A-WOW Inc. is a defunct business that never came into being. There is no such for-profit corporation. “NGO” is political correctness for “non-governmental organization / non profit organization.”
    • Editor’s note: The nonprofit’s legal name is Arch Work of Wellness, Inc — not A-WOW Inc.  One may not list a corporate name differently than it is recorded legally.  It probably would have been fine for Arch Work of Wellness to refer to itself or its programs informally as A-WOW, if they still used their legal name prominently.
  • We asked why she said all filings were current, since we could find no form 990 filed with IRS since 2014 tax year.
    • Wright’s response: “All filings can be obtained from the Texas Secretary of State by contacting them.”
    • Editor’s note: The Texas Secretary of State’s website does not have IRS forms.
  • We noted that Wright used the awow.us website for her campaign.
    • Wright’s response: “AWOW IGLI website is awownow.org.”
    • Editor’s note: awownow.org is one of A-WOW’s websites.  All of its primary links point to the organization’s global.awow.us website, which is on the same webserver as awow.us – Wright’s campaign website.  Whois data for the domain name awow.us points to a web hosting provider, and does not list either the nonprofit or Wright as the owner.  The nonprofit site does not appear to link to the campaign site.
  • We noted that wright used AWOW-IGLI Facebook and Twitter to promote her account.
    • Wright’s response: “I have not used neither AWOW IGLI Facebook nor Twitter to promote my campaign. However in this age of technology and interconnections things can appear unknowingly. If you’ve found something let me know and I will check into it.”
    • Editor’s note: We emailed Wright screenshots of all of the posts.  She now appears to have taken them down.
  • We asked whether Wright was aware that both federal law and Arch Work of Wellness’ own charter prohibit the promotion of political candidates.  Wright did not respond.

1 COMMENT

  1. Transparency means that what you are doing, particularly in your business dealings, is easy for anyone to understand; the different connections to internal relationships are easy to follow; your activities raise no questions about their structure or funding; explanations of any and all of these components are consistent, logical, direct, and not evasive or convoluted; nothing suggests something is irregular, hidden or manipulated; and, most importantly, everything follows the letter of the law.

    While reading this online article, I began making a list of key points that bring both transparency and legality in this operation into the same scrutiny as Lewisville Texan Journal, only stated more as a set of established rules.

    * “Inc.” has a very specific legal definition: you are formally incorporated and registered in one of the 50 states under the exact name you use to conduct business.
    * Only a filed DBA (“Doing Business As”) can give an incorporated entity an alternative legal name for business transactions. The filing would be at the state level if the DBA has any business activities beyond the borders of the county (or a small number of counties) it alternatively could file in, but will never do business beyond any county line where filed and active.
    * Only entities that file for incorporation, and accepted by the state in which they file, can use “Inc.” or “Corp.” as part of their name, in which case, it is not a DBA. It is a corporation.
    * You cannot legally add “Inc.” or “Corp.” to a DBA to create the impression that the DBA name is itself incorporated. There are no exceptions to this.
    * A program within a corporation is only a program. It cannot be a corporation of its own, or use “Inc.” or “Corp.” in its name to give the illusion it is anything beyond a program within a corporation.
    * If an entity is incorporated and not revoked, then it is not a program within a corporation. It is a corporation.
    * A notice of corporate charter forfeiture from the state in which you incorporated confirms that the corporate name given on the revocation was originally registered (“came into being”).
    * Either you are a registered and active incorporated entity with one of the 50 states, or you are not. If your charter is revoked, then you are not registered.
    * A notice of charter forfeiture from the state in which you incorporated legally requires that you immediately cease all operations, activities, transactions, promotion, and/or any other further use of the name other than for identification in government or court legal filings such as taxes or bankruptcy.
    * Either your incorporated name is a non-profit registered and accepted with the IRS , or it is a for-profit business.
    * You are soliciting donated money if, at any time through any communication channel, you request money from anyone, and/or you present a working means to receive cash donations by any means.
    * The incorporated name and 501(c)(3) given with the solicitation for money, along with any statement about tax-deductible status, is the receiving entity, not any other corporation.
    * If you register your corporation with your state as a for-profit, you cannot register the same corporation with IRS as a non-profit.
    * You cannot legally claim or represent to the public that your incorporated entity (using its incorporated name) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit unless you have that approved and active status from the IRS.
    * It is a clear violation of IRS rules to ever use a charitable 501(c)(3) to promote any candidate for any elected or appointed office, or campaign against any opponent under any circumstances at any time. Doing so can result in permanently losing your IRS charitable status.

    Keep in mind that at any time, anyone operating a business who has any questions, or needs help, always has access to a number of free support options. Some of those include the Small Business Administration, Secretary of State Office, IRS help line, The Texas Legal Services Center, local Chambers of Commerce, and countless publications in print and online.

    Ignorantia juris non excusat (Ignorance of the law is no excuse). Dating back to Roman law, and still true today: this fundamental legal principle holds that stating you were unaware of the law is not a valid defense against liability for violating that law.

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