MSRB NOTICE 2007-13 (MARCH 26, 2007)

REMINDER OF OBLIGATIONS UNDER RULE G-37 ON POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS AND RULE G-27 ON SUPERVISION WHEN SPONSORING MEETINGS AND CONFERENCES INVOLVING ISSUER OFFICIALS

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (“Board” or “MSRB”) is publishing this notice to remind brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) of the possible application of Rule G-37, on political contributions and prohibitions on municipal securities business, when dealers sponsor meetings and conferences where issuer officials are invited to attend or are featured speakers.  Dealers are responsible for ensuring that their supervisory policies and procedures established under Rule G-27, on supervision, are adequate to prevent and detect violations of MSRB rules.  Thus, it is incumbent on dealers to have appropriate supervisory procedures in place to review the nature of, and activities surrounding, the types of events discussed in this notice to ensure that Rule G-37 is not violated, directly or indirectly.

Rule G-37, in general, prohibits dealers from engaging in municipal securities business with issuers for a two-year period if certain political contributions have been made to officials of such issuers by the dealer or a municipal finance professional (“MFP”) (other than certain de minimis contributions), and requires dealers to record and disclose certain political party payments and municipal securities business to assist in severing the connection between contributions and the awarding of municipal securities business.  The rule also includes, among other things, a prohibition on dealers and their MFPs from (1) soliciting any person (including, but not limited to, any affiliated entity of the dealer) or political action committee (“PAC”) to make any contribution, or (2) coordinating any contributions to an official of an issuer with which the dealer is engaging or seeking to engage in business.  Dealers and MFPs are prohibited from, directly or indirectly, through or by any other person or means, doing any act which would result in violation of the rule’s ban on business or prohibition on soliciting and coordinating (bundling) contributions.

A dealer sponsoring a meeting or conference where an issuer official is invited to attend or is a featured speaker should be mindful of the parameters of Rule G-37, including the prohibition on soliciting and coordinating contributions.  For example, if the issuer official (or his/her staff) solicits contributions in connection with the event, or dealer personnel solicit or coordinate contributions, such activities may constitute fundraising activities. [1]  If a determination is made, based on the particular facts and circumstances, that the event is a fundraising event for the issuer official, then expenses incurred by the dealer for hosting the event may be deemed a contribution, thereby triggering the two-year ban on municipal securities business with that issuer.  Such expenses may include, but are not limited to, the cost of the facility; the cost of refreshments; any expenses paid for administrative staff; and the payment or reimbursement of any of the issuer official’s expenses for the event. [2]

The dollar amount of an expense incurred by the dealer for hosting the event is not dispositive of whether that expense constitutes a contribution and therefore triggers the ban on municipal securities business under Rule G-37.  If, depending on the particular facts and circumstances, the event is a fundraising event, then any expense incurred by the dealer may be deemed a contribution to the issuer official, thereby triggering the two-year ban on municipal securities business with that issuer.

By publishing this notice, the MSRB is not suggesting that dealers curtail their legitimate hosting or sponsoring of meetings or conferences where issuer officials are invited to attend or are featured speakers.  However, dealers should consider carefully the true nature of such events and the possible application of Rule G-37 if the meeting or conference involves fundraising activities in support of an issuer official.

In addition to dealers’ Rule G-37 obligations, Rule G-27, on supervision, requires that dealers supervise the conduct of their municipal securities activities, and that of their associated persons, to ensure compliance with MSRB rules, and that dealers adopt, maintain and enforce written supervisory procedures reasonably designed to ensure such compliance.  It is therefore incumbent on dealers to have appropriate supervisory procedures in place to review the nature of, and activities surrounding, the types of events discussed in this notice to ensure that Rule G-37 is not violated, directly or indirectly. Dealers should therefore take appropriate steps to ensure that such events are not fundraising events by, among other things, ensuring that: (i) contributions are not solicited by the issuer official or his/her staff; (ii) any attendee contact information provided by the dealer is not used by the issuer official or his/her staff to solicit contributions; and (iii) contributions are not solicited, coordinated or made by dealer personnel in connection with the event. [3]

March 26, 2007


[1] The MSRB has previously stated that “Dealers may not engage in municipal securities business with issuers if they or their municipal finance professionals engage in any kind of fundraising activities for officials of such issuers….”  See Securities Exchange Act Release No. 33868 (April 7, 1994), 59 FR 17621 (April 13, 1994).  See also Questions and Answers Concerning Political Contributions and Prohibitions on Municipal Securities Business: Rule G-37 (May 24, 1994), reprinted in MSRB Rule Book; MSRB Interpretation of November 7, 1994 (Solicitation of Contributions), reprinted in MSRB Rule Book; MSRB Interpretation of May 31, 1995 (Campaign for Federal Office), reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

The MSRB has stated, however, that MFPs are “free to, among other things, solicit votes or other assistance for such an issuer official so long as the solicitation does not constitute a solicitation or coordination of contributions for the official.” In upholding the constitutionality of Rule G-37, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit observed that “municipal finance professionals are not in any way restricted from engaging in the vast majority of political activities, including making direct expenditures for the expression of their views, giving speeches, soliciting votes, writing books, or appearing at fundraising events.” Blount v. SEC, 61 F.3d 938, 948 (D.C. Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 116 S. Ct. 1351 (1996).  However, the MSRB has stated that hosting or paying to attend a fundraising event may constitute a contribution subject to section (b) of the rule.  See Question and Answers II.11 and II.18 (May 24, 1994; see also MSRB Interpretation of May 31, 1995 (Campaign for Federal Office), reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

[2] Other amounts paid to issuer officials (such as honoraria) may be subject to Rule G-20 on gifts, gratuities and non-cash compensation, to the extent such payments are in relation to the issuer’s municipal securities activities.

[3] Although Rule G-37(c) prohibits MFPs from soliciting or coordinating contributions, the MSRB has previously stated that “Whether a municipal finance professional is permitted by section (c) of the rule to indicate to third parties that someone is a ‘great candidate’ or to provide a list of third parties for the candidate to call would be dependent upon all the facts and circumstances surrounding such action. The facts and circumstances that may be relevant for this purpose may include, among any number of other factors, whether the municipal finance professional has made an explicit or implicit reference to campaign contributions in his or her conversations with third parties whom the candidate may contact and whether the candidate contacts such third parties seeking campaign contributions. However, the totality of the facts and circumstances surrounding any particular activity must be considered in determining whether such activity may constitute a solicitation of contributions for purposes of section (c) of the rule. Therefore, the Board cannot prescribe an exhaustive list of precautions that would assure that no violation of this section would occur as a result of such activity.”  See MSRB Interpretive Notice on Solicitation of Contributions (May 21, 1999), reprinted in MSRB Rule Book