WASHINGTON (AP) — Organizing for Action, a group formed to back President Barack Obama's agenda, has fired one of its fundraisers and acknowledged falling short of its standards as questions were raised Friday about whether the group solicited donations in exchange for access to Obama or White House officials.
Samantha Maltzman, a longtime Democratic fundraiser, has been forced to resign after emails surfaced between her and Dr. Munr Kazmir, a major donor, inviting him to a dinner with Obama and listing prices to attend. The emails conflicted with OFA's longstanding assertion that its supporters don't have to pay a set price to attend its summits with the president.
"It is $25K per person to attend and for those that raise or write $100K, there will be a small clutch (intimate gathering) with the president prior," Maltzman wrote in one email.
OFA spokeswoman Katie Hogan said the group's policies prohibit offering opportunities to meet with administration officials in exchange for donations.
"We hold ourselves to the highest standards. In this case we fell short," Hogan said. "We have taken the necessary steps to address this situation and will build on this experience to assure that it will not be repeated."
The emails also raised questions about whether Kazmir and another donor he recruited stood to benefit from securing face time with Obama or his aides.
OFA said it had returned a check for $100,000 that Joseph Piacentile mailed to the group by after Kazmir encouraged him to donate. When OFA discovered that Piacentile was convicted of Medicare fraud in the 1990s and was reportedly seeking a presidential pardon, it returned the check.
But emails obtained by NBC News show that after the check was returned, Maltzman suggested that Piacentile instead donate the same to "partner organization" America Votes — a liberal political group that doesn't traditionally disclose its donors publicly. Piacentile wrote a second check for $100,000 but for reasons that remain unclear, it was mailed to OFA rather than America Votes.
OFA said that it returned the second check, too, and that Piacentile did not attend the dinner with Obama, which took place Tuesday in Washington.
Fueling further concern was a meeting between a White House official and Kazmir, who NBC said has been sued by a federal agency over missing payments on a loan to build an American-style school in Pakistan. Kazmir said OFA executive director Jon Carson initiated and arranged a meeting for him with a top official in the White House Office of Public Engagement to discuss the issue.
"I did not initiate contact with Organizing for Action to begin with. They contacted me," Kazmir said.
Kazmir did meet with the White House official at a coffee shop near the White House, but the official felt uncomfortable and removed himself from the situation, NBC reported.
It's unclear what led Kazmir to contact Piacentile on OFA's behalf. Kazmir said he was unaware of efforts to seek a pardon when he asked him to donate to OFA. An aide to Kazmir said he received the name as a suggestion of someone who might be willing to donate, but couldn't recall where the suggestion came from. The aide wasn't authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.
The incident raised questions for an organization that since its inception has sought to fight the perception that the nonprofit group is trading access to Obama for donations. The advocacy group, which was formed from the remnants of Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, voluntarily discloses its donors and says it vigorously vets all donations.
The White House declined to comment. The Associated Press left messages for Piacentile and Saltzman seeking comment, but those messages were not immediately returned.
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