As the issue of vaccine mandates was coming to a head last year, and the Lone Star State’s governor was resisting calls for a special session on the issue, observers noticed a crucial voice in Texas was muted: Texans for Vaccine Choice.
In recent days, the reasons have become more clear in the unfortunate form of legal filings between Texans for Vaccine Choice and its former executive director, Jackie Schlegel. The filings reveal two separate legal organizations—a 501(c)(3) charity and a 501(c)(4) advocacy group—allegedly being treated as one entity.
Texans for Vaccine Choice, a 501(c)(4) entity—a type of entity that can advocate for causes and candidates, but donations to it are not tax-deductible—was formed by three moms worried about the increasing imposition of vaccines on children. These moms, Schlegel, Rebecca Hardy, and Michelle Evans (who later left the board and was eventually replaced by Christine Welborn) started the organization in 2015.
In 2016, a separate 501(c)(3) charitable entity—one that educates the public and to which donations are tax-deductible—was launched called Texans for Vaccine Freedom. By 2021, Schlegel and Hardy were board members of TFVF. However, the third vote was held by a North Texas man named Joel Starnes, who apparently remains supportive of Schlegel and at odds with Hardy.
As TFVC’s influence and fundraising grew, so did its staff. By 2021, though, the staff had allegedly grown unhappy with the direction Schlegel was taking the organization. While it had originally been known for its scrappy opposition to politicians, regardless of party, who opposed greater vaccine choice for parents, the organization had begun muting its criticism of Republicans. The staff took their complaints to TFVC board members Hardy and Welborn.
Schlegel reportedly told her fellow board members that the only way things would change operationally would be for them to remove her from the board and fire her. According to documents filed as part of a lawsuit, the two called for a meeting to discuss Schlegel’s future.
The evening before the meeting, TFVC’s lawsuit alleges Schlegel attempted to transfer $116,000 out of the TFVC 501(c)(4) entity’s bank account and into the 501(c)(3) entity’s account. This, TFVC alleges, was totally unprecedented for the two organizations and was done to move money from an organization Schlegel did not control (the c4) and into an organization she did control (the c3).
For her part, Schlegel has characterized the movement of money as routine.
“With the likelihood of a 4th special session looking unfortunately slim, on November 18th, 2021, using my discretion as Executive Director, I initiated a transfer of funds from our legislative entity to the educational foundation,” Schlegel wrote in a Facebook post. “We had operational costs, staff to pay, and new hires looming in the near future, so I moved the funds to the entity responsible for those types of transactions. A transfer that is legal, within the scope of my job responsibilities, and similar to funding shifts we had done several times after the completion of a legislative session.”
A review of publicly available documents the two entities have filed with the Internal Revenue Service show no such transfers having ever taken place. Various observers familiar with nonprofit funding—though not the specifics of Texans for Vaccine Choice or Texans for Vaccine Freedom—have raised their eyebrows at the attempted movement of the money. Rarely is the “hard to raise” 501(c)(4) (because it isn’t tax-deductible) money transferred to a 501(c)(3) entity, because “tax-deductible” money is typically easier to raise.
Likewise, TFVC board member Rebecca Hardy has said in an online posting that there was no history of money being moved between the 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) entities, except at the beginning when c4 dollars were used to open the 501(c)(3) bank account. TFVC has called the attempted transfer “completely unprecedented” and has noted that the amount constituted 80 percent of TFVC’s cash reserves.
When Schlegel attempted to transfer the funds, though, the move was blocked with the organization’s financial institution, and no money ultimately changed hands.
“I was shocked, but immediately took the action necessary to protect TFVC, our donors, and the Board,” explained Hardy in a statement posted to the TFVC website. “We hired an attorney, contacted the bank and made it clear that this transfer was made without the permission of the Board of Directors and that Jackie had no jurisdiction to even authorize such a transfer. The bank immediately reversed the transaction.”
At that point, Hardy and Welborn called an emergency board meeting and, in light of the attempted transfer, voted Schlegel off the board and terminated her employment.
Schlegel’s legal team argues the termination as inconsistent with TFVC bylaws, which require a 15-day notification of board meetings. She wants a court to place her back on the three-member board until a 15-day meeting can be noticed.
Schlegel has characterized the series of events as a “hostile takeover.”
The legal maneuvering comes as political tensions remain high over Texas’ lack of legal protection surrounding federal and private vaccine mandates related to COVID-19. While many of the federal mandates have been stalled through court action, businesses have continued to pursue firings and layoffs related to vaccine requirements—even in businesses working outside the healthcare industry.