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Organizing for Action: 'We will learn' from mistakes

WASHINGTON—Organizing for Action, the Chicago-based organization spawned from the Obama for America presidential campaign, is recognizing it fell short of its own standards following stumbles involving potential donors.

No one ended up getting a favor. And the OFA never took a tainted donation.

But after an NBC News report raised questions about fundraising, the organization took steps to avoid problems in the future.



In an internal memo to OFA staffers sent out over the weekend — which I obtained — OFA Executive Director Jon Carson and Board Chairman Jim Messina wrote, “our organization recently fell short of these standards. We will learn from these mistakes and re-commit ourselves to the changes needed to strengthen our relevant policies and the procedures for ensuring compliance with them.”

Also, the OFA jettisoned a fundraiser who violated OFA policies in wooing big donations.

OFA is headquartered in a rehabbed office building near Fulton Market in the West Loop. It is organized as a non-partisan non-profit, but its agenda and most of its events are aimed at supporting Obama administration policies and programs.

More than 100 political professionals work out of its brick-walled offices, led by Carson, the former White House Director of the Office of Public Engagement.

Carson and Messina in the memo installed a new policy –a ban on steering their supporters — whose money OFA would not accept-- to make contributions to other allied organizations.  That’s only happened three times.

Carson and Messina also stressed two other policies: that no one from the OFA is authorized to arrange meetings with administration officials if they want something and if an administration official appears at an OFA event—it cannot be a fundraiser.

 

 

Here’s the backstory:

Last week, NBC News investigative reporter Mike Isikoff broke the story that Carson arranged for a meeting between a potential big donor, one Munr Kazmir and Yohannes Abraham, the Chief of Staff for the Office of Public Engagement and the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs — Carson’s former shop.

Kazmir wanted the meeting with Abraham, according to Isikoff, “to seek relief from a court judgment by the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) for his failure to make payments on a $2.5 million loan to start an American school in Lahore, Pakistan.”

White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told me in an e-mail, "As soon as Mr. Abraham learned that this meeting involved ongoing litigation, he immediately terminated it and made clear he could not get involved."

Carson said in a statement to NBC, “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 another situation, a solicitation from an OFA fundraiser by the name of Samantha Maltzman turned into a problem because  she sent Kazmir an email listing prices to attend an OFA event where President Barack Obama was appearing—a violation of OFA policy.

Kazmir also passed along to Maltzman a $100,000 check from a doctor from New Jersey, Joseph Piacentile—who is seeking a pardon for a 1991 Medicare fraud conviction.

The OFA vets its donors and rejected the Piacentile donation.

After OFA turned down the check Maltzman then sent word to Kazmir that he could instead write the check to “one of our partner organizations,” America Votes. The OFA also voluntarily makes  donations over $250; America Votes--which never took the check-- does not make the names of its contributors public.