A tip of the hat today to NBC News and reporter Michael Isikoff. Their watchdogging of Organizing for Action (OFA), the nonprofit lobbying and advocacy group created from the remnants of President Obama's 2012 reelection drive, has produced a seamy but unsurprising tale of how money opens doors in political Washington.
NBC reported Tuesday that OFA's leaders have fired Samantha Maltzman, a veteran political fundraiser, after she reeled in a $100,000 check from Dr. Joseph Piacentile, a New Jersey doctor who was hoping to secure a presidential pardon for his 1991 conviction on Medicare fraud and tax evasion charges. The check was delivered on Piacentile's behalf by Munr Kazmir, a New Jersey businessman, after OFA's executive director arranged meetings with two federal officials to discuss his legal problems.
A Jan 15 email from Maltzman to Kazmir, obtained by NBC, promised the contribution would secure Piacentile a place in "a small clutch with the President" during an OFA-sponsored reception last week in Washington. Piacentile's application for a pardon was pending at the time.
The network said higher-ups at OFA ordered the check returned but Maltzman then urged Kazmir to have Piacentile make a second $100,000 donation, this one to a Democrat-friendly nonprofit that is not required to disclose its contributors.
NBC said Kazmir has "a reputation as a major Republican bundler" with close ties to Governor Chris Christie, but has also solicited money on behalf of Democrats. In political parlance, bundlers are activists who solicit donations from friends and business associates on behalf of a candidate or political committee and then bundle and deliver the money.
Kazmir is in the middle of a multi-million dollar legal battle with the Overseas Private Insurance Group, a federal agency, and has sought to enlist White House help to resolve the dispute.
An OFA spokeswoman said the group has tightened its fundraising process and reviews in the wake of the incident, but that is cold comfort. The group promised it would not offer access for big donors after Common Cause and other watchdog groups challenged its reported access-for-cash plans last year. OFA also said it would reject corporate gifts and disclose all contributions larger than $250, but has admitted to steering at least two big contributions to other nonprofits that don't have to report their donors.
The NBC report underscores how easy it remains for such groups -- on the right and the left -- to reward contributors with access to top government officials.
It's a fair bet that but for NBC's inquiries, spawned by a leaked email, Piacentile's money would have gotten him the presidential meeting and chance to plead his case for a pardon that he coveted. And while that may have been perfectly legal, there's something fundamentally wrong with a system that permits such shenanigans It is high time for a tough pay-to-play law in Washington, and for disclosure laws that ensure that political contributions are brought into the open, no matter who collects them.
Read Common Cause's press release on the OFA's pay-to-play arrangement and the opportunity it gives President Obama to push for serious controls on political spending.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Money in Politics
Tags: Empowering Small Donors