Organizing for Action revamps rules

Organizing for Action is revamping its fundraising practices and fired a fundraiser amid questions about whether the group was promising access to Obama administration officials in exchange for donations.

Samantha Maltzman, a top fundraiser for the Democratic group with strong ties to President Obama, resigned from the organization after NBC News obtained emails between her and Dr. Munr Kazmir, a New Jersey businessman, explicitly listing prices to attend a summit last week with the president. 

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The emails conflicted with a pledge by former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, who wrote in an op-ed last year that “we can't and we won't guarantee access to any government officials.”

While Kazmir ultimately did not donate to the group, the NBC News investigation revealed he did attempt to deliver a $100,000 donation from a New Jersey physician, Dr. Joseph Piacentile.

Maltzman returned the check because Piacentile has been convicted of Medicare fraud, but asked Kazmir to have him donate the money instead to America Votes, a partner organization that unlike Organizing for Action (OFA) does not disclose its donors. 

OFA officials speaking anonymously to NBC said that the donation was the third time that the group had asked large donations to be diverted to other progressive groups.

OFA director Jon Carson also arranged for Kazmir to meet with White House aide Yohannes Abraham, the chief of staff of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and Ashley Green, who works on international education issues at the Agency for International Development.

Kazmir was reportedly seeking relief from a court judgment for failure to make payments on a $2.5 million loan to launch an American school in Pakistan.

White House officials told NBC that Abraham attended the meeting at a nearby coffee shop, but said he felt “uncomfortable” and “immediately extricated himself.” OFA officials stressed that Carson did not lobby on Kazmir's behalf, and noted that the administration did not help him obtain relief from the judgment.

In response to the revelations, the OFA sent an internal memo to staff over the weekend reiterating that no member of the group is authorized to offer supporters opportunities to meet with administration officials, or suggest that a donation to the group is a prerequisite to summits featuring the president or other administration officials.

The memo also outlined a new policy under which the OFA will no longer recommend to supporters that donors make a financial contribution to another political organization.

In a statement, Carson said he “fell short” in meeting his responsibility “to assure that no question about our standards could even be reasonably raised.”

“We have strengthened our policies to prevent an issue like this from ever reoccurring and to ensure that our sole focus in cities and states across the country is promoting the issues the American people voted for in 2012 and accomplishing a national progressive agenda,” Carson said.

Katie Hogan, a spokesperson for the group, stressed that the OFA never accepted a donation from Kazmir, and noted that Piacantile did not attend the event late last month featuring Obama. She also stressed that under OFA policies “no one is or has ever been authorized to offer opportunities to meet with administration officials in exchange for a donation to the organization.”

Still, the revelations are likely to amplify concerns expressed at the launch of OFA by nonpartisan watchdog groups like Common Cause that had questioned whether the group was enabling influence peddling.

After a disputed report in the New York Times claimed that donors who gave $500,000 would be guaranteed quarterly access to the president and that a $50,000 donation was required to attend a founder's summit, Common Cause president Bob Edgar accused Obama of perpetuating “the pay-to-play politics he has reportedly deplored.”

Following the report, White House press secretary Jay Carney insisted there was “no set price” for access to the president.

“The White House sets the president's schedule. And there is no price to meet with the president,” Carney said.