Controls on Political Contributions

In the face of some pay-to-play scandals involving investment advisers and government sponsored investment fund officials, the Securities and Exchange Commission slapped restrictions on the ability of investment advisers and fund managers to make political contributions. Rule 206(4)-5 prohibits an investment manager or fund manager from collecting fees for two years if the firm or “covered associates” make a political contribution to certain elected officials. The ban applies to politicians who can directly or indirectly influence the decision to hire or can directly or indirectly appoint the person who can make the decision.

In talking with other compliance officers, firms are all over the place on how they are putting restrictions and controls in place to prevent the disastrous results that come from violating the rule.

  1. Complete ban on political candidates
  2. Pre-clear all political contributions
  3. Pre-clear any contributions in excess of the de minimis amount of $350/$150
  4. Here’s the rule don’t break it

Regardless of the restrictions, the SEC Rule also imposes a record-keeping obligation on the compliance program. “Covered associates” must report all political contributions.

You can do a periodic certification of the contributions they have made. Since political contribution are in the public records, theoretically you can check the records to make sure that they are not failing to report.

I decided to try some public record searches to see if this was a realistic control.

I assumed the federal databases would be the best so I went to the Federal Election Commission’s Advanced Transaction Query By Individual Contributor. It allows you to search by company name. That makes it easy to run a broad search to find who in the organization has made campaign contributions.

That was a good start, but the least relevant. For the most part, federal elected officials do not control government-sponsored retirement funds. The big exception is if the candidate is currently a state or local official looking to go to Washington.

I turned next to Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Their OCPF Searchable Campaign Finance Database & Electronic Filing System makes it easy to search by employer.

Then I tried California, New York, and Virginia. They were both terrible and I could not find a way to search by employer.

Washington State’s Public Disclosure Commission allows you to search by employer.

The SEC rule just went into effect in March, so I get the sense that compliance programs are evolving as they work with the restrictions and controls. I’m interested to hear you are doing, whether you are searching campaign databases, and the resources you are using. Feel free to leave a comment (anonymous if you like) or send a confidential email to compliancebuilding@gmail.com.

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