MSRB NOTICE 2010-30 (AUGUST 25, 2010)

MSRB FILES INTERPRETIVE GUIDANCE AND PUBLISHES A REQUEST FOR COMMENT ON DEALER-AFFILIATED PACS UNDER RULE G-37

On August 25, 2010, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (the “MSRB”) filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) a proposed rule change consisting of interpretive guidance in connection with Rule G-37, on political contributions and prohibitions on municipal securities business (the “Proposed Interpretation”).[1]  The Proposed Interpretation provides guidance on factors that may result in a political action committee (“PAC”) formed by or otherwise maintaining a relationship with an affiliate of a broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer (“dealer”) being viewed as controlled by the dealer or a municipal finance professional (“MFP”) of the dealer and thereby being treated as a dealer-controlled PAC for purposes of the rule.  In addition, the MSRB is seeking industry comment on whether to require dealers to disclose the names of its affiliated PACs to the MSRB for public scrutiny (the “Request for Comment”).  The MSRB has requested that the Proposed Interpretation become effective sixty (60) days after approval by the SEC and comments on the Proposed Interpretation should be directed to the SEC.  Comments in response to the Request for Comment should be directed to the MSRB and are due no later than October 29, 2010.[2]

Rule G-37 was adopted to ensure that the high standards and integrity of the municipal securities industry are maintained by severing the connection between political contributions and the awarding of municipal securities business.[3]  The rule provides that certain contributions to elected officials of municipal securities issuers made by dealers, MFPs associated with dealers, and PACs controlled by dealers and their MFPs (“dealer-controlled PACs”) may result in prohibitions on the dealers from engaging in municipal securities business with such issuers for a period of two years from the date of any triggering contributions. 

Rule G-37 also requires dealers to disclose certain contributions to issuer officials, state or local political parties, and bond ballot campaigns on Form G-37. In addition, dealers and MFPs generally are prohibited from soliciting others (including affiliates of the dealer or any PACs) to make contributions to officials of issuers with which the dealer is engaging or seeking to engage in municipal securities business, or to political parties of a state or locality where the dealer is engaging or seeking to engage in municipal securities business. Dealers and MFPs are prohibited from circumventing Rule G-37 by direct or indirect actions through any other persons or means.

Due to changes in the financial markets since the adoption of Rule G-37 and recent market turmoil, many dealers have become affiliated with a broad range of other entities in increasingly diverse organizational structures.  Some of these affiliated entities (including but not limited to banks, bank holding companies, insurance companies and investment management companies) have formed or otherwise maintain relationships with PACs (“affiliated PACs”) and other political organizations, many of which may make contributions to issuer officials.  Such relationships raise questions regarding the extent to which affiliated PACs may effectively be controlled by dealers or their MFPs and thereby constitute dealer-controlled PACs whose contributions are subject to Rule G-37.  Further, such relationships raise concerns regarding whether the contributions of such affiliated PACs, even if not viewed as dealer-controlled PACs, may be used by dealers or their MFPs to circumvent Rule G-37 as indirect contributions for the purpose of obtaining or retaining municipal securities business. As a result, the MSRB has filed the Proposed Interpretation to provide additional guidance with regard to the potential for affiliated PACs to be viewed as dealer-controlled PACs and is also seeking industry comment on requiring certain disclosures related to dealers’ affiliated PACs.

Interpretive Guidance

The Proposed Interpretation sets out factors that may result in an affiliated PAC being viewed as controlled by a dealer or an MFP of a dealer and thereby being treated as a dealer-controlled PAC for purposes of Rule G-37. The Proposed Interpretation would: i) provide guidance on when an affiliated PAC might be viewed as controlled by the dealer for purposes of Rule G-37; and ii) ensure that the industry is cognizant of prior MSRB guidance concerning indirect contributions under the rule. 

The Proposed Interpretation notes that, when evaluating whether contributions made by affiliated PACs may be subject to the provisions of Rule G-37, dealers should first determine whether such affiliated PAC would be viewed as a dealer-controlled PAC. If an affiliated PAC is determined to be a dealer-controlled PAC, then its contributions to issuer officials would subject the dealer to the ban on municipal securities business and its contributions to issuer officials, state or local political parties, and bond ballot campaigns would be subject to disclosure under Rule G-37.  Even if the affiliated PAC is determined not to be a dealer-controlled PAC, the dealer still must consider whether payments made by the dealer or its MFPs to such affiliated PAC could ultimately be viewed as indirect contributions under Rule G-37(d) if, for example, the affiliated PAC is being used as a conduit for making a contribution to an issuer official.

The text of the Proposed Interpretation is included at the end of this notice.

Request for Comment

The MSRB recently sought industry comment on whether affiliated PAC contributions should be subject to the mandatory disclosure requirements of Rule G-37.[4]  After reviewing the industry response, the MSRB has determined to seek further industry comment on whether to require dealers instead to disclose the names of their affiliated PACs to the MSRB.  Such information would be posted on the MSRB web site in the same manner as submitted Forms G-37 are currently made available to the public. This would allow public scrutiny of the relationships between dealers and their affiliated PACs while recognizing that in many cases dealers may not control the activities of such affiliated PACs.  Instead, market participants and the general public would be provided with basic information regarding such relationships that they may use, as appropriate, to make further inquiries regarding their practices in light of the specific factual and legal circumstances that may be relevant with respect to a particular dealer, its affiliates, and its municipal securities business.

In this regard, the MSRB is interested in whether such disclosure, if required, would provide sufficient information to allow market participants to access contribution or other relevant information of affiliated PACs available through federal, state and local public disclosure facilities.  In addition, the MSRB is seeking input on whether such disclosure, if required, should be provided on a quarterly basis, as part of the regular Form G-37 submission process, or on an annual basis through a separate submission process.  Also, the MSRB seeks comments on whether there is other pertinent information regarding affiliated PACs and their contributions that would prove beneficial to the marketplace.

Comments should be submitted no later than October 29, 2010 and may be directed to Leslie Carey, Associate General Counsel, or Ronald W. Smith, Senior Legal Associate. Written comments will be available for public inspection on the MSRB’s web site.[5]

The text of the Proposed Interpretation follows.

August 25, 2010 

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GUIDANCE ON DEALER-AFFILIATED POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEES
UNDER RULE G-37

Since 1994, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (“MSRB”) has sought to eliminate pay-to-play practices in the municipal securities market through its Rule G-37, on political contributions and prohibitions on municipal securities business.[1]  Under the rule, certain contributions to elected officials of municipal securities issuers made by brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”), municipal finance professionals (“MFPs”) associated with dealers, and political action committees (“PACs”) controlled by dealers and their MFPs (“dealer-controlled PACs”[2] may result in prohibitions on dealers from engaging in municipal securities business with such issuers for a period of two years from the date of any triggering contributions.

Rule G-37 requires dealers to record and disclose certain contributions to issuer officials, state or local political parties, and bond ballot campaigns, as well as other information, on Form G-37 to allow public scrutiny of such contributions and the municipal securities business of a dealer. In addition, dealers and MFPs generally are prohibited from soliciting others (including affiliates of the dealer or any PACs) to make contributions to officials of issuers with which the dealer is engaging or seeking to engage in municipal securities business, or to political parties of a state or locality where the dealer is engaging or seeking to engage in municipal securities business. Dealers and MFPs also are prohibited from circumventing Rule G-37 by direct or indirect actions through any other persons or means.[3]

Due to changes in the financial markets since the adoption of Rule G-37, many dealers and MFPs have become affiliated with a broad range of other entities in increasingly diverse organizational structures.  Some of these affiliated entities (including but not limited to banks, bank holding companies, insurance companies and investment management companies) have formed or otherwise maintain relationships with PACs (“affiliated PACs”) and other political organizations, many of which may make contributions to issuer officials.  Such relationships raise questions regarding the extent to which affiliated PACs may effectively be controlled by dealers or their MFPs and thereby constitute dealer-controlled PACs whose contributions are subject to Rule G-37.  Further, such relationships raise concerns regarding whether the contributions of such affiliated PACs, even if not viewed as dealer-controlled PACs, may be used by dealers or their MFPs to circumvent Rule G-37 as indirect contributions for the purpose of obtaining or retaining municipal securities business.

The MSRB remains concerned that individuals and firms subject to Rule G-37 may seek ways around the rule through payments to and contributions by affiliated PACs that benefit issuer officials. When evaluating whether contributions made by affiliated PACs may be subject to the provisions of Rule G-37, the MSRB emphasizes that dealers should first determine whether such affiliated PAC would be viewed as a dealer-controlled PAC. If an affiliated PAC is determined to be a dealer-controlled PAC, then its contributions to issuer officials would subject the dealer to the ban on municipal securities business and its contributions to issuer officials, state or local political parties, and bond ballot campaigns would be subject to disclosure under Rule G-37. Even if the affiliated PAC is determined not to be a dealer-controlled PAC, the dealer still must consider whether payments made by the dealer or its MFPs to such affiliated PAC could ultimately be viewed as an indirect contribution under Rule G-37(d) if, for example, the affiliated PAC is being used as a conduit for making a contribution to an issuer official.

The MSRB wishes to provide guidance regarding the factors that may result in an affiliated PAC being viewed as controlled by the dealer or an MFP of the dealer and thereby being treated as a dealer-controlled PAC for purposes of Rule G-37. The MSRB also wishes to ensure that the industry is cognizant of prior MSRB guidance regarding the potential for payments to and contributions by affiliated PACs to constitute indirect contributions under the rule.

Indicators of Control by Dealers and MFPs

Soon after adoption of Rule G-37, the MSRB stated that each dealer must determine whether a PAC is dealer controlled, with any PAC of a non-bank dealer assumed to be a dealer-controlled PAC.[4]  The MSRB has also stated that the determination of whether a PAC of a bank dealer[5] is a dealer-controlled PAC would depend upon whether the bank dealer or anyone from the bank dealer department has the ability to direct or cause the direction of the management or the policies of the PAC.[6]  Such ability to direct or cause the direction of the management or the policies of a PAC also would be indicative of control of such PAC by a non-bank dealer or any of its MFPs, although it would not be the exclusive indicator of such control. While this guidance establishes basic principles with regard to making a determination of control, it does not set out an exhaustive list of circumstances under which a PAC may or may not be viewed as dealer or MFP controlled.  The specific facts and circumstances regarding the creation, management, operation and control of a particular PAC must be considered in making a determination of control with respect to such PAC.

Creation of PAC.   In general, a dealer or MFP involved in the creation of a PAC would continue to be viewed as controlling such PAC unless and until such dealer or MFP becomes wholly disassociated in any direct or indirect manner with the PAC. Thus, any PAC created by a dealer, acting either in a sole capacity or together with other entities or individuals, would be presumed to be a dealer-controlled PAC.  This presumption continues at least as long as the dealer or any MFP of the dealer retains any formal or informal role in connection with such PAC, regardless of whether such dealer or MFP has the ability to direct or cause the direction of the management or policies of the PAC. This presumption also would continue for so long as any associated person of the dealer (either an individual, whether or not an MFP, or an affiliated company directly or indirectly controlling, controlled by or under common control with the dealer) has the ability to direct or cause the direction of the management or policies of the PAC. In effect, a dealer could not attempt to treat a PAC it created and then spun off to the control of an affiliated company as not being a dealer-controlled PAC. However, depending on the totality of the facts and circumstances, a PAC originally created by a dealer in which the dealer or its MFPs no longer retain any role, and with respect to which any other affiliates retain only very limited non-control roles, could be viewed as no longer controlled by the dealer.

Similarly, a PAC created by any person associated with the dealer at the time the PAC was created, acting either in a sole capacity or together with other entities or individuals, would be presumed to be controlled by such person.  Such presumption continues at least for so long as such person retains any formal or informal role in connection with such PAC, regardless of whether any such person has the ability to direct or cause the direction of the management or policies of the PAC.  This presumption also would continue for so long as any other person associated with the same dealer as the creator of the PAC has the ability to direct or cause the direction of the management or policies of the PAC. Although such PAC may not be viewed as being subject to Rule G-37 as an MFP-controlled PAC when originally created if such person was not then an MFP, if the person creating the PAC, or any other associated person with the ability to direct or cause the direction of the management or policies of such PAC, is or later becomes an MFP, such PAC would be deemed an MFP-controlled PAC.[7]

Management, Funding and Control of PAC.   Beyond the role of the dealer, MFP or other person in creating a PAC and maintaining an ongoing association with such PAC, the ability to direct or cause the direction of the management or the policies of a PAC is also important. Strong indicators of management and control are not mitigated by the fact that such dealer, MFP or other person does not have exclusive, predominant or “majority” control of the PAC, its management, its policies, or its decisions with regard to making contributions.  For example, the fact that a dealer or MFP may only have a single vote on a governing board or other decision-making or advisory board or committee of a PAC, and therefore does not have sole power to cause the PAC to take any action, would not obviate the status of such dealer or MFP as having control of the PAC, so long as the dealer or MFP has the ability, alone or in conjunction with other similarly empowered entities or individuals, to direct or cause the direction of the management or the policies of the PAC.  In essence, it is possible for a single PAC to be viewed as controlled by multiple different dealers if the control of such PAC is shared among such dealers, although the presumption of control may be rebutted as described below.

The level of funding provided by dealers and their MFPs to a PAC may also be indicative of control. A PAC that receives a majority of its funding from a single dealer (including the collective contributions of its MFPs and employees) or a single MFP is conclusively presumed to be controlled by such dealer or MFP, regardless of the lack of any of the other indicia of control described in this notice.  Another important factor is the size or frequency of contributions by a dealer or MFP,[8] viewed in light of the size and frequency of contributions made by other contributors not affiliated in any way with such dealer or MFP. For example, a limited number of small contributions freely made by employees of a dealer to an affiliated PAC (i.e., not directed by the dealer and not part of an automated or otherwise dealer-organized program of contributions) would not, by itself, automatically raise a presumption of dealer control so long as the collective contributions by the dealer or its employees is not significant as compared to the total funding of the affiliated PAC, subject to consideration of the other relevant facts and circumstances. In addition, contributions made by a dealer or MFP to an affiliated PAC could raise a stronger inference of de facto dealer or MFP control than when such contributions were made to non-affiliated PACs.

However, even where a dealer or MFP is not viewed as controlling a PAC under the principles described above, dealers should remain mindful of the potential for leveraging the contribution activities of affiliated PACs in soliciting municipal securities business in a way that could raise a presumption of dealer or MFP control.  For example, an MFP’s references to the contributions made by an affiliated PAC during solicitations of municipal securities business could, depending on the facts and circumstances, serve as evidence of coordination of such PAC’s activities with the dealer or MFP that could, together with other facts, be indicative of direct or indirect control of the PAC by such dealer or MFP.  Such control could be found even in circumstances where the dealer or its MFPs have not made contributions to the affiliated PAC.[9]

Of course, the presumptions described above may be rebutted, depending upon the totality of facts and circumstances. Considerations that may serve to rebut such presumptions may include whether the dealer or person creating the PAC:  (i) participates with a broad-based group of other entities and/or individuals in creating the PAC, (ii) at no time undertakes any direct or indirect role (and, in the case of a dealer, no person associated with the dealer undertakes any direct or indirect role) in leading the creation of the PAC or in directing or causing the direction of the management or the policies of the PAC, and/or (iii) provides funding for such PAC (and, in the case of a dealer, its associated persons collectively provide funding for such PAC) that is not substantially greater than the typical funding levels of other participants in the PAC who do not undertake a direct or indirect role in leading the creation of the PAC or in directing or causing the direction of the management or the policies of the PAC.

Indirect Contributions Through Bank PACs or Other Affiliated PACs

As noted above, if an affiliated PAC is determined not to be a dealer-controlled PAC, a dealer must still consider whether payments made by the dealer or its MFPs to such affiliated PAC could be viewed as an indirect contribution that would become subject to Rule G-37 pursuant to section (d) thereof. The MSRB has provided extensive guidance on such indirect contributions, noting in 1996 that, depending on the facts and circumstances, contributions to a non-dealer associated PAC that is soliciting funds for the purpose of supporting a limited number of issuer officials might result in the same prohibition on municipal securities business as would contributions made directly to the issuer official.[10]  The MSRB also noted that dealers should make inquiries of a non-dealer associated PAC that is soliciting contributions in order to ensure that contributions to such a PAC would not be treated as an indirect contribution.[11]

The MSRB also has previously provided guidance in 2005 with regard to supervisory procedures[12] that dealers should have in place in connection with payments to a non-dealer associated PAC or a political party to avoid indirect rule violations of Rule G-37(d).  In such guidance, the MSRB stated that, in order to ensure compliance with Rule G-27(c) as it relates to payments to political parties or PACs and Rule G-37(d), each dealer must adopt, maintain and enforce written supervisory procedures reasonably designed to ensure that neither the dealer nor its MFPs are using payments to political parties or non-dealer controlled PACs to contribute indirectly to an official of an issuer.[13]  Among other things, dealers might seek to establish procedures requiring that, prior to the making of any contribution to a PAC, the dealer undertake certain due diligence inquiries regarding the intended use of such contributions, the motive for making the contribution and whether the contribution was solicited. Further, in order to ensure compliance with Rule G-37(d), dealers could consider establishing certain information barriers between any affiliated PACs and the dealer and its MFPs.[14]  Dealers that have established such information barriers should review their adequacy to ensure that the affiliated entities’ contributions, payments or PAC disbursement decisions are neither influenced by the dealer or its MFPs, nor communicated to the dealers and the MFPs.

The MSRB subsequently noted that the 2005 guidance did not establish an obligation to put in place the specific procedures and information barriers described in the guidance so long as the dealer in fact has and enforces other written supervisory procedures reasonably designed to ensure that the conduct of the dealer and its MFPs are in compliance with Rule G-37(d).[15]  Thus, for example, when information regarding past or planned contributions of an affiliated PAC is or may be available to or known by the dealer or its MFPs, the dealer might establish and enforce written supervisory procedures that prohibit the dealer or MFP from providing information to issuer personnel regarding past or anticipated affiliated PAC contributions.

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[1] Rule G-37 defines municipal securities business as: (i) the purchase of a primary offering of municipal securities from an issuer on other than a competitive bid basis; (ii) the offer or sale of a primary offering of municipal securities on behalf of an issuer; (iii) the provision of financial advisory or consultant services to or on behalf of an issuer with respect to a primary offering of municipal securities in which the dealer was chosen to provide such services on other than a competitive bid basis; or (iv) the provision of remarketing agent services to or on behalf of an issuer with respect to a primary offering of municipal securities in which the dealer was chosen to provide such services on other than a competitive bid basis.

[2] The MSRB has previously stated that the matter of control depends upon whether or not the dealer or the MFP has the ability to direct or cause the direction of the management or policies of the PAC (MSRB Question & Answer No. IV. 24 – Dealer Controlled PAC).

[3] Rule G-37(d) provides that no broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer or any municipal finance professional shall, directly or indirectly, through or by any other person or means, do any act which would result in a violation of sections (b) or (c) of the rule. Section (b) relates to the ban on business and Section (c) relates to the prohibition on soliciting and coordinating contributions.

[4] See Rule G-37 Question & Answer No. IV.24 (May 24, 1994).

[5] MSRB Rule D-8 defines a bank dealer as a municipal securities dealer which is a bank or a separately identifiable department or division of a bank.

[6] See Rule G-37 Question & Answer No. IV.24 (May 24, 1994).

[7] However, a PAC created by an individual acting in his or her formal capacity as an officer, employee, director or other representative of a dealer, regardless of whether such individual is an MFP, would be deemed a dealer-controlled PAC rather than a PAC controlled by the individual.

[8] A dealer or an MFP may make sufficiently large or frequent contributions to a PAC so as to obtain effective control over the PAC, depending on the totality of facts and circumstances.

[9] See Rule G-37 Question & Answer No. III.7 (September 22, 2005) for a discussion of potential indirect contributions through affiliated PACs.

[10] See Rule G-37 Question & Answer No. III.4 (August 6, 1996).

[11] See Rule G-37 Question & Answer No. III.5 (August 6, 1996).

[12] Rule G-27, on supervision, provides in section (c) that each dealer shall adopt, maintain and enforce written supervisory procedures reasonably designed to ensure that the conduct of the municipal securities activities of the dealer and its associated persons are in compliance with MSRB rules.

[13] See Rule G-37 Question & Answer No. III.7 (September 22, 2005).

[14] The potential information barriers described in the guidance include: i) a prohibition on the dealer or MFP from recommending, nominating, appointing or approving the management of affiliated PACs; ii) a prohibition on sharing the affiliated PAC’s meeting agenda, meeting schedule, or meeting minutes; iii) a prohibition on identification of prior affiliated PAC contributions, planned PAC contributions or anticipated PAC contributions; iv) a prohibition on directly providing or coordinating information about prior negotiated municipal securities businesses, solicited municipal securities business, and planned solicitations of municipal securities business; and v) other such information barriers as the firms deems appropriate to monitor conflicting interest and prevent abuses effectively.

[15] See Rule G-37 Interpretive Letter – Supervisory procedures relating to indirect contributions; conference accounts and 527 organizations (December 21, 2006).


[1] File No. SR-MSRB-2010-07.  Comments on the filing should be submitted to the SEC and should reference this file number.

[2] Written comments will be posted on the MSRB web site.  Comments are posted without change and personal identifying information, such as name or e-mail address, will not be edited from submissions.  Therefore, commentators should submit only information that they wish to make available publicly.

[3] Rule G-37 defines municipal securities business as: (i) the purchase of a primary offering of municipal securities from an issuer on other than a competitive bid basis; (ii) the offer or sale of a primary offering of municipal securities on behalf of an issuer; (iii) the provision of financial advisory or consultant services to or on behalf of an issuer with respect to a primary offering of municipal securities in which the dealer was chosen to provide such services on other than a competitive bid basis; or (iv) the provision of remarketing agent services to or on behalf of an issuer with respect to a primary offering of municipal securities in which the dealer was chosen to provide such services on other than a competitive bid basis.

[5] All comments received will be made publicly available without change. Personal identifying information, such as names or e-mail addresses, will not be edited from submissions. Therefore, commentators should submit only information that they wish to make publicly available.