Pay to Play Rules for Placement Agents

The SEC imposed strict limitations on the ability of investment advisers to make political contributions when their clients include government bodies when it issued Rule 206(4)-5. They don’t want government investment decisions decided campaign contributions. This limitation also applies to private investment funds under the language of the rule and the changes to the Investment Advisers Act made by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

The SEC carried this limitation over to placement agents used by investment advisers. The placement agent needs to be subject to similar limitations. That means the placement agent would need to be a registered investment adviser or otherwise regulated. At first the SEC expected FINRA to create a new rule to govern pay-to play. Instead, Section 975 of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act created a new category of regulated persons called a “municipal adviser.” This new category will regulated by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board.

The MSRB has issued a proposed draft of new Rule G-42 that would limit a placement agent’s ability to make political contributions.

One major difference between this draft of Rule G-42 and SEC Rule 206(4)-5 is the definition of de minimis political contribution. The SEC allows a contribution of $350 per election cycle for candidate you can vote for or $150 for a candidate you can’t vote for. The MSRB definition would be $250 for candidate that you can vote for.

Violating the rule means you are banned from

  • engaging in municipal advisory business with a municipal entity for compensation,
  • soliciting third-party business from a municipal entity for compensation, or
  • receiving compensation for the solicitation of third-party business from a municipal entity,

for two years after any contribution to an official of such municipal entity in excess of the de minimis amount.

Proposed Rule G-42 for municipal advisers is similar to Rule G-37 for those in the municipal securities business. I expect that comments will argue that the de minimis amount should match up with the SEC’s de minimis amount.


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