Pro-Obama Group Fires Fundraiser Amid Pay-for-Access Allegations

Friday, 28 Feb 2014 08:28 PM

By Cathy Burke

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A political nonprofit that pushes President Obama's policies has fired a fundraiser after questions about whether she solicited donations in exchange for access to Obama or White House officials.

Organizing for Action, an outgrowth of the 2012 Obama For America campaign, says it has returned a $100,000 check from Joseph Piacentile, a New Jersey doctor who's seeking a presidential pardon for a Medicare fraud conviction, NBC News reports.

The group said it's also dismissed dogged Democratic fundraiser Samantha Maltzman, who brought in the convicted doctor's donation.

Citing emails, NBC reported Maltzman had collected the big check as part of an effort to raise money from rich contributors for an OFA dinner Tuesday with Obama in Washington.

But she also took steps that could have kept the donation secret — returning Piacentile's $100,000 check and asking him to write a new one to a nonprofit that doesn't have a policy of voluntarily disclosing its donors, NBC News reported.

The OFA “summit” included 300 of the group's volunteers, and featured the president pressing his agenda for health care, increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and other issues.

Afterward, he pressed the flesh with selected attendees and met with a smaller group that included major donors.

“I would not be president if it were not for this room,” Obama said during the dinner talk, NBC News reported.

In a statement to The Wire, OFA spokeswoman Katie Hogan said the nonprofit didn't accept the doctor's money and he didn't attend its event with Obama, citing "fundraising policies, that require vigorous vetting of all donations."

"Under those same 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," she added.

"We hold ourselves to the highest standards. In this case we fell short. While we did not accept the donation in question, and while we did not provide any benefit to anyone in exchange for a donation, we take seriously how we present ourselves as a grassroots policy advocacy organization. So we have taken the necessary steps to address this situation and will build on this experience to assure that it will not be repeated."

Maltzman used to be a fundraiser for New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Hillary Clinton during her 2008 presidential campaign, and was praised by one OFA official for doing "consistently... great work but [she] made a mistake in this instance," NBC reported.

In December, Picacentile filed an application with the Justice Department seeking a pardon from Obama in which he expressed remorse over his 1991 felony convictions.
“The bottom line is that I was the president of a corrupt company that ripped off Medicare for millions of dollars,” he wrote in the application, a copy of which was obtained for NBC News.

But it was on Feb. 6, with the pardon application pending, that Piacentile wrote his check to OFA in response to an OFA appeal for the dinner and reception.

“It is $25,000 per person to attend and for those that raise or write $100K, there will be small clutch with the president,” Maltzman wrote in a Jan. 15 email to another New Jersey doctor and potential donor, Munr Kazmir, who knew Piacentile and invited him to be his guest.

The emails show Maltzman returned Piacentile’s check to Kazmir –- after OFA reviewers spotted his past criminal problems, NBC News reported.

But Malzman asked him to have Piacentile make out a new check for the same amount payable to another “progressive” nonprofit, America Votes, that doesn't disclose its donors, NBC News reported.

“I’ve been set up. I can’t comment about this,” Piacentile told NBC. Malzman didn't return calls from the network.

When OFA was formed last spring, critics warned of just such a scenario: donors giving money in exchange for access or favors, The Wire reported.

At first, OFA said it wouldn't identify corporate donors to the group, which, since it's a 501(c)(4) non-profit, it doesn't legally have to do, The Wire reported.

But after being blasted for the decision, OFA's chairman — and Obama 2012 campaign manager — Jim Messina announced it would list those donors on its website, barackobama.com.

The Wire has reported the group is sometimes indistinguishable from the president; its Twitter account is verified as Barack Obama, despite his not controlling or, in the recent past, tweeting from it.

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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