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Prohibited Payments to Non-Affiliated Persons for Solicitations of Municipal Securities Business Under Rule G-38 and Form G-38t Submission Requirements
Rule G-38, on solicitation of municipal securities business, prohibits any broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer ("dealer") from making a direct or indirect payment to any person who is not an affiliated person of the dealer for a solicitation of municipal securities business. The current version of Rule G-38 replaced a prior version of the rule, relating to the use of consultants, effective August 29, 2005. Thus, with one narrowly defined exception discussed below, since August 29, 2005, dealers have been prohibited from making any payments to persons not affiliated with the dealer (including but not limited to any former consultant under the prior version of Rule G-38) for solicitations of municipal securities business.
A dealer is permitted to make a payment to a former consultant who is not an affiliated person of the dealer for a solicitation of municipal securities business if the payment is made solely for solicitation activities undertaken by such former consultant on or prior to August 29, 2005. A transitional payment is permitted only if (A) the former consultant has not solicited municipal securities business from any issuer on behalf of the dealer after August 29, 2005 and (B) the dealer submits Form G-38t to the MSRB for each calendar quarter during which such payment to the consultant is made or remains pending. The dealer must disclose on its initial and all subsequent Form G-38t submissions each item of municipal securities business for which a transitional payment remains pending and the amount of such pending payment, together with other required information, until such quarter in which the payment is finally made.
Dealers are required to submit Form G-38t to the MSRB for a calendar quarter only if a transitional payment to a former consultant is paid during such quarter or remains pending (i.e., payable at a future date) as of such quarter. If no such payments are made or remain pending in any calendar quarter, Form G-38t is not required to be submitted and dealers should not make such submissions. Dealers should note that pending payments must continuously be disclosed on Form G-38t for every calendar quarter, beginning with the quarter ended on September 30, 2005 and each quarter thereafter, until paid. If a pending payment has not been disclosed on Form G-38t for any one or more prior calendar quarters, such payment may no longer be made under the transitional payment provision of Rule G-38 and the dealer would violate Rule G-38 if it subsequently makes such a payment.
The MSRB wishes to remind dealers that Rule G-38 strictly prohibits all payments by a dealer to a non-affiliated person for solicitation activities undertaken after August 29, 2005, even if such solicitation activities are undertaken pursuant to a contract entered into by the dealer with the non-affiliated person on or prior to August 29, 2005. In effect, all paid solicitation activities by non-affiliated persons on behalf of dealers were required to cease as of August 30, 2005, regardless of whether such activities arise from earlier contractual commitments, since any payments by dealers for such activities would violate Rule G-38. Further, as noted above, one of the conditions for permitting transitional payments for solicitations occurring on or prior to August 29, 2005 is that the former consultant does not solicit municipal securities business from any issuer on behalf of the dealer at any time after August 29, 2005. Thus, if a dealer has a pending payment to a former consultant for a solicitation made to an issuer on or prior to August 29, 2005, a subsequent solicitation on behalf of the dealer by such former consultant to the same or a different issuer after August 29, 2005 would disqualify such pending payment from being treated as a valid transitional payment under Rule G-38.
General Advertising Disclosures, Blind Advertisements and Annual Reports Relating to Municipal Fund Securities Under Rule G-21
Rule G-21, on advertising, establishes specific requirements for advertisements by brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (“dealers”) of municipal fund securities, including but not limited to advertisements for 529 college savings plans (“529 plans”). This notice sets forth interpretive guidance under Rule G-21 with respect to time-limited broadcast advertisements, blind advertisements, and annual reports or other similar information required to be distributed under state mandates.
General Disclosures in Time-Limited Broadcast Advertisements
Rule G-21(e)(i)(A) requires certain basic disclosures to be provided in product advertisements for municipal fund securities. These disclosures are not legends requiring the inclusion of specific language. Rather, these disclosure requirements may be complied with if the substance of such information is effectively conveyed, regardless of the specific language used in the advertisement. In general, the context in which the information is provided is an important factor in determining whether the information is effectively conveyed.
These required disclosures may present challenges in the context of broadcast advertisements, such as traditional television or radio commercials with 30-second run-times or public service announcements with shorter run-times. In the context of time-limited broadcast advertisements, dealers should provide such disclosures in a manner that appropriately balances the intended message with the required disclosures. Given the unique nature of broadcast advertisements, where the oral presentation of more information can often result in a decreased likelihood that the central message of such information will be understood and retained, somewhat abbreviated forms of the required disclosures may be appropriate for such time-limited broadcast advertisements, particularly if the disclosures are made with close attention paid to ensuring that they are presented with equal prominence to the remainder of the message.
Thus, for example, in a time-limited broadcast advertisement for a non-money market 529 plan, the following language, spoken in a manner consistent with the remaining oral presentation of information, generally would satisfy the disclosure requirements of Rule G-21(e)(i)(A): “To learn about [529 plan name], its investment objectives, risks and costs, read the official statement available from [source]. Check with your home state to learn if it offers tax or other benefits for investing in its own 529 plan.” Further, in a time-limited television advertisement, the source for the official statement, together with a contact telephone number or web address, generally could be displayed on screen while other portions of the disclosures are spoken. This example is intended to be illustrative and is not intended to be exclusive or to necessarily establish a baseline for disclosure.
Under Rule G-21(e)(i)(B)(2), certain product advertisements for municipal fund securities that promote an issuer and its public purpose without promoting specific municipal fund securities or identifying a dealer or its affiliates may omit the general disclosures otherwise required under Rule G-21(e)(i)(A). Among other things, such a blind advertisement may include contact information for the issuer or an agent of the issuer to obtain an official statement or other information, provided that if such issuer’s agent is a dealer or dealer affiliate, no orders may be accepted through such source unless initiated by the customer. Although the contact information may direct a potential customer to a dealer or its affiliate acting as agent of the issuer, the face of the advertisement may not identify such dealer or affiliate.
For example, a blind advertisement may say “call 1-800-xxx-xxxx for more information” or “go to www.[state-name]-529plan.com for more information” but may not say “call [dealer name] at 1-800-xxx-xxxx for more information” or “go to www.[dealer-name]-529plan.com for more information.” This provision does not preclude the person who answers a phone inquiry, or the website to which the URL links, from identifying the dealer or its affiliate, so long as such dealer or affiliate is clearly disclosed to be acting on behalf of the issuer identified in the advertisement.
If a potential customer initiates an order through the source identified in the advertisement, a distinct barrier between the providing of information and the seeking of orders must be maintained to qualify as a blind advertisement. For example, solely for purposes of Rule G-21(e)(i)(B)(2), a dealer may establish that the customer initiated the order by requiring, in the case of a telephone inquiry, that the customer be transferred from the initial dealer contact person to a different person before the customer provides any information used in connection with an order or, in the case of a web-based inquiry, that the customer navigate from the initial webpage referred to in the advertisement to another page on the same or different web site before entering any information used in connection with an order. Of course, the dealer must be mindful of its obligation under Rule G-17, on fair practice, to provide to the customer, at or prior to the time of trade, all material facts about the transaction known by the dealer as well as material facts about the security that are reasonably accessible to the market, regardless of whether the transaction was recommended or whether an order may be characterized as unsolicited. In addition, if the transaction is recommended, the dealer must fulfill its obligations with respect to suitability under Rule G-19, on suitability of recommendations and transactions.
Required Annual Reports Excluded from Definition of Advertisement
In some cases, a dealer may be required, by state law or the rules and regulations adopted by the state or an instrumentality thereof governing a particular 529 plan or other municipal fund security program, to prepare or distribute an annual financial re- port or other similar information regarding such plan or program. So long as a dealer provides any such required report or information with respect to a 529 plan or other municipal fund securities program solely in the manner required by such state law or rules and regulations, such report or information will not be treated as an advertisement for purposes of Rule G-21. However, the dealer would remain subject to Rule G-17, which requires that the dealer deal fairly with all persons, prohibits the dealer from engaging in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice and requires the dealer to provide to its customer, at or prior to the time of trade, all material facts about a transaction known by the dealer or that are reasonably accessible to the market. In addition, if such information is used in any manner beyond what is narrowly required by such law, rules or regulation, such use of the information would become subject to Rule G-21 as an advertisement.
 These methods are not intended to be the exclusive means by which a dealer could establish that the customer initiated the order.
 See Rule G-17 Interpretation – Interpretive Notice Regarding Rule G-17, on Disclosure of Material Facts, March 20, 2002, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.
 If such information is distributed through the official statement, then it would not be considered an advertisement by virtue of the exclusion of official statements from the definition of “advertisement” in Rule G-21(a)(i).
 This guidance is consistent with similar guidance provided by NASD with respect to its advertising rule, Rule 2210, as applied to certain performance information and hypothetical illustrations required by state laws to be provided by dealers in connection with retirement investments and variable annuity contracts. See letter dated November 29, 2004, to Therese Squillacote, Chief Compliance Officer, ING Financial Advisers, LLC, from Philip A. Shaikun, Assistant General Counsel, NASD; letter dated September 30, 2002, to Sally Krawczyk, Esq., Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan, LLP, from Mr. Shaikun; and letter dated February 5, 1999, to W. Thomas Conner, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs, National Association of Variable Annuities, from Robert J. Smith, Office of General Counsel, NASD Regulation, Inc.