SEC Warns Firms on Muni Pay-to-Play Rules
Washington, D.C., March 18, 2022 — The Securities and Exchange Commission today issued a report warning firms that municipal securities rules prohibiting pay-to-play apply to affiliated financial professionals, not just a firm's employees.
The pay-to-play rule, MSRB Rule G-37, generally prohibits firms from underwriting municipal bonds for an issuer for two years after a municipal finance professional (MFP) involved with that firm makes a campaign contribution to an elected official of that municipality.
In the Report of Investigation, the Commission makes clear that an executive who supervises the activities of a broker, dealer, or municipal securities dealer is not exempt from the MSRB's pay-to-play rule just because he or she may be outside the firm's corporate governance structure. As such, an executive may be deemed an MFP if he or she is not part of a broker-dealer, but oversees the broker-dealer from the vantage of the holding company.
"Firms and associated persons must adhere strictly to municipal securities pay-to-play rules," said Robert Khuzami, Director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement. "Firms cannot rely solely upon titles or organizational charts in determining whether a person is subject to those rules."
When the Commission approved the rule in 1994, it indicated that banks and bank holding companies affiliated with brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers were excluded from the rule. Since then, the Commission has not directly addressed whether directors, officers or employees of such banks and bank holding companies are MFPs if they supervise the public finance activities of brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers or serve on executive committees that engage in such supervision.
The Commission's Report of Investigation stems from an Enforcement Division inquiry into whether JP Morgan Securities Inc. (JPMSI) violated the MSRB Rule. According to the Report, JPMSI underwrote municipal bonds issued by the state of California within two years after a then-Vice Chairman of JPMSI's parent bank holding company (JP Morgan Chase) gave a $1,000 contribution to a California elected official.
Under Section 21(a) of the Securities Exchange Act, the Commission may investigate violations of the federal securities laws and at its discretion "publish information concerning any such violations." JPMSI consented to the issuance of the Report without admitting or denying any of the statements or conclusions.