The Washington Post

OFA executive director helped arrange meeting with White House staffer for prospective donor

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.

Matea Gold is a national political reporter for The Washington Post, covering money and influence.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The South Carolina GOP primary and the Nevada Democratic caucuses are next on Feb. 20. Get caught up on the race.
Past South Carolina GOP primary winners
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the first state in the South to vote, where he faces rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
We'll have half a million voters in South Carolina. I can shake a lot of hands, but I can't shake that many.
Sen. Marco Rubio, speaking to a group of reporters about his strategy to regain support after a poor performance in the last debate
Fact Checker
Sanders’s claim that Clinton objected to meeting with ‘our enemies’
Sanders said that Clinton was critical of Obama in 2008 for suggesting meeting with Iran. In fact, Clinton and Obama differed over whether to set preconditions, not about meeting with enemies. Once in office, Obama followed the course suggested by Clinton, abandoning an earlier position as unrealistic.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.