February 23, 2011; Source: New York Times | On Valentine’s Day a marriage was announced between Operation Smile and Smile train, two organizations that work to repair cleft lips and palates of children in poor countries.

In a joint statement, Charles B. Wang, Co-founder of Smile Train and Dr. William P. and Kathleen S. Magee, Co-founders of Operation Smile, said, “We are delighted that our boards have voted to unite our two organizations. By combining our talented staffs and programs, we bring together the best volunteer doctors and other medical personnel, with the best in-country facilities, and will be able to reach more children than the two charities would have separately.”

But, in the New York Times yesterday, Stephanie Strom writes that the merger is not what it seems – a happy voluntary joining of the two organizations dedicated to repairing cleft palates among the world’s children, but a strange power grab resulting from internal strife within Smile Train.

Strom reports that the two co-founders of Smile Train, Brian Mullaney and Charles Wang, had been feuding for some time – apparently over the question of how broad the mission should be – when Wang orchestrated a kind of coup with four other board members who Strom says are also employees at businesses Wang owns. Evidently Wang walked into the boardroom one day and announced the merger to the other board members, who have now taken the matter to the New York Attorney General.

In a weird twist, the agreement has a provision in it that gives Wang complete oversight of approximately $100 million in assets (which amounts to two-thirds of the current assets) in the form of a “legacy fund”. While there would be five board members presiding over distribution of that money, according to Strom Wang would have appointment and removal rights over them.

Additionally, the merged organization would be required to turn over half its fundraising proceeds to that same fund and the Magees, of Operation Smile, would have “lifetime tenure” at the new merged entity.

In the Times Strom writes that “for the last decade, Smile Train and Operation Smile have been the Hatfields and McCoys of the charity world.” But this seems more like one of those Dominic Dunne stories of intrigue in a well-heeled but dysfunctional family because the story gets even more complex.

Mullaney and Wang were originally on the Operation Smile Board together but resigned in protest over the organization’s medical practices. Strom reports that donors are understandably upset with the situation. There is much more to this story and it is well worth reading so we urge you to use the links and read it yourself but we are interested to see what the Attorney General has to say.—Ruth McCambridge