The nonprofit advocacy group formed out of President Obama’s reelection campaign tightened its fundraising policies this week after acknowledging that its executive director helped arrange a meeting with a White House official for a prospective financial backer of the organization.
The move violated Organizing for Action’s policy prohibiting staff from offering to help supporters meet with administration officials to resolve individual issues or requests for government assistance.
“We hold ourselves to the highest standards,” Jon Carson, the executive director, said in a statement. “In this case, while the contributions in question were never made and no benefit was provided to anyone in exchange for a contribution, I fell short in meeting my responsibility as the Executive Director of OFA to assure that no question about our standards could even be reasonably raised.”
In a memo to OFA staff, Carson and chairman Jim Messina stressed that employees must have approval from legal counsel to communicate with the White House, and they pledged that the group would “learn from these mistakes.”
The incident, which was first reported by NBC News, also led to the resignation of an OFA fundraising consultant, Samantha Maltzman, who had solicited a $100,000 donation from the prospective donor, Munr Kazmir, a Pakistan-born doctor who lives in New Jersey, to attend a last week’s OFA summit in Washington with Obama.
OFA does not allow events featuring administration officials to be structured as fundraisers, and staff are not allow to suggest that donations are required to attend such functions, Carson and Messina wrote in their memo.
The group also acknowledged that OFA staffers have on three occasions encouraged donors who did not meet the group’s standards to write checks to other nonprofits that do not voluntarily disclose their donors, as OFA does. Under a new policy, OFA employees are not permitted to encourage supporters to give to other organizations.
The episode began when Carson met in December at a New York club with Kazmir, a moderate Republican businessman and fundraiser. The two discussed Kazmir’s interest in immigration reform, an issue OFA backs, as well as Kazmir’s work in Pakistan, where he founded an American-style school in Lahore. Kazmir told Carson that he has been in a legal dispute with a federal agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, after he failed to make payments on a $2.5 million loan the agency gave him for the school.
In late January, Carson helped arrange a meeting for Kazmir with a White House staffer, Yohannes Abraham, at a downtown Washington coffee shop.
The White House said Abraham did not intervene on Kazmir's behalf.
“As soon as Mr. Abraham learned that this meeting involved ongoing litigation, he immediately terminated it and made clear he could not get involved,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
Kazmir, who said the conversation lasted more than 30 minutes and ended when he had to go catch a train, said he did not feel he was getting special treatment.
“I did not think I did something improper,” he said. “I did not ask to benefit my business. I asked to benefit the American school.”
He was seeking the help, he added, for the sake of an institution that helps both Pakistan and the United States by improving the prospects of children in Lahore.
The following day, Kazmir let Maltzman know that he found a donor for OFA. In early February, OFA received a check for $100,000 from an acquaintance of Kazmir, a New Jersey doctor named Joseph Piacentile.
OFA staff ultimately rejected the check after discovering Piacentile did not pass the group’s vetting procedures. Piacentile has a 1991 felony conviction for Medicare fraud, for which he is seeking a presidential pardon, NBC reported.
When reached by phone, Piacentile declined to comment.
OFA officials confirmed that after his check was rejected, Maltzman suggested to Kazmir that Piacentile instead send give the money to America Votes, an allied liberal group that does not disclose its donors voluntarily, as OFA does. Piacentile made out a check to America Votes, but it never reached the group. It was sent to OFA’s Chicago headquarters and returned.
“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.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.