More Political Contribution Problems

There is too much money in a politics. I understand the Securities and Exchange Commission’s desire to purge political contributions from the investment adviser business for state and local government money. But I’ve never been a fan of Rule 206(4)-5, the pay-to-play rule. It’s continuing to ensnare companies in ways that highlight problems with the rule and the very low limits in the rule.

One recent case is that of PNC Capital Advisors. One its employees in business development made a $1000 campaign contribution to John Kasich’s presidential campaign. Kasich was the governor of Ohio and able to appoint trustees to the Ohio state pension funds. That made Kasich an “Official” under the rule and firm had some Ohio state pension money under management.

As I had pointed out, only two out of the twenty-two the major candidates for the last presidential election were subject to the campaign contribution limit because they held state offices: John Kasich and Chris Christie. The rule obviously creates an unnecessary distortion in political campaigns. Adding Pence, the Governor of Indiana to the ticket caused another what do we do moment.

In PNC’s case, the employee had been listed by PNC as a “covered associate” and was in the process of being promoted when PNC discovered the campaign contribution. However, the employee was not responsible for the Ohio account. At no time had the employee been involved in soliciting the Ohio plans, and had never communicated with the Ohio plans. The Contributor had never solicited any other state or local Ohio government entity. The Contributor had never made presentations for, or met with, any representatives of the Ohio plans or with any other Ohio government entities, or supervised any person who met with any of the Ohio plans or other Ohio government entity. If promoted, the Contributor will neither meet with any Ohio government entities personally, nor supervise any person who solicits investment advisory services business from Ohio government entities.

The employee failed to disclose the contribution because he was focused the office Kasich was running for, President, and failed to realize that the rule applied to the current office as well. The PNC compliance group found the contribution in the process of running checks in connection with a promotion. A promotion that is now on hold and has been for 2017.

The SEC order prohibits the employee from soliciting government funds for several months. PNC was allowed to keep the two year worth of fees. $700,000 of fees was at risk for that $1000 contribution.

That was a $1000 contribution in a campaign in which Kasich raised over $19 million.

BlackRock had a similar problem with the Kasich campaign. One of its employees wrote a check for $2700 to the Kasich campaign. The employee was in the ETF division, but since he was on the global executive committee, he fell into the definition of “covered associate.”

Similar to PNC, that employee had never solicited government entities for investment advisory business that is covered under the Rule. To the extent the Contributor has personally solicited business from any government entities, it was exclusively for direct investments in RICs that are outside the scope of the Rule. He has never attended, or otherwise participated in, any meetings, discussions, or any other communications in which a solicitation of covered investment advisory business has taken place.

Blackrock’s compliance group found the donation while conducting a routine compliance review.

Here is a list of other exemptions granted. These were identified in the PNC application and BlackRock application.

  • Davidson Kempner Capital Management LLC, Investment Advisers Act Release Nos. IA-3693 (October 17, 2013) (notice) and IA-3715 (November 13, 2013) (order)
  • Ares Real Estate Management Holdings, LLC, Investment Advisers Act Release Nos. IA-3957 (October 22, 2014) (notice) and IA-3969 (November 18, 2014) ( order);
  • Crestview Advisors, LLC, Investment Advisers Act Release Nos. IA-3987 (December 19, 2014) (notice) and IA-3997 (January 14, 2015)(order);
  • T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., and T. Rowe Price International Ltd., Investment Advisers Release Nos. IA-4046 (March 12, 2015) (notice) and IA-4508 (April 8, 2015)(order);
  • Crescent Capital Group, LP, Investment Advisers Release Nos. IA-4140 (July 14, 2015) (notice) and IA-4172 (August 14, 2015) (order);
  • Starwood Capital Group Management, LLC, Investment Advisers Act Release Nos. IA-4182 (August 26, 2015)(notice) and IA-4203 (September 22, 2015) (order);
  • Fidelity Management & Research Company and FMR Co., Inc., Investment Advisers Release Nos. IA-4220 (October 8, 2015) (notice) and IA-4254 (November 3, 2015) (order);
  • Brookfield Asset Management Private Institutional Capital Adviser US, LLC et. al., Investment Advisers Act Release Nos. IA-4337 (February 22, 2016) (notice) and IA-4355 (March 21, 2016) (order);
  • Angelo, Gordon & Co., LP, Investment Advisers Release Nos. IA-4418 (June 10, 2016)(notice) and IA-4444 (July 6, 2016) ( order);
  • Brown Advisory LLC, Investment Advisers Act Release Nos. IA-4605 (January 10, 2017) (notice) and IA-4642 (February 7, 2017) (order)

These all look technical violations with no evidence that there were weaknesses in policies or an intent to influence. The rule is just too broad, with dollar limits that are too low.