NBC News policy, as quoted by Politico, says:
"Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the president of NBC News or his designee."This makes sense for reporters, but Olbermann is not an "impartial journalist" -- he's a commentator. He's paid to be un-impartial, and his stance is no secret to anybody. In fact, he's pumped up MSNBC's ratings with his left-leaning show. Still, the peacock acts like Olbermann committed a capital sin after finding out his money followed his mouth. Gasp! A liberal supporting liberals!
"I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns, nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level," Olbermann told Politico. If he had, then we have more of a ethical dilemma, given the host would be crossing the line from commentary into campaigning.
Olbermann spent private money spent on private time for people we would expect him to support. The only people who should be surprised are those who demand all talk-show hosts turn in their citizenship cards.
UPDATE: Upon his return, Olbermann says NBC's policy towards political donations needs debate. Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine argues more transparency is needed -- even going as far to reveal how journalists vote!