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Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Prohibited Payments to Non-Affiliated Persons for Solicitations of Municipal Securities Business Under Rule G-38 and Form G-38t Submission Requirements
Rule Number:

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[1] of the dealer for a solicitation of municipal securities business.[2] The current version of Rule G-38 replaced a prior version of the rule, relating to the use of consultants, effective August 29, 2005.[3]  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.[4]

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.  


[1] An affiliated person of a dealer is any partner, director, officer, employee or registered person of the dealer or of an affiliated company. A registered person of a dealer is any associated person of the dealer qualified under MSRB or NASD professional qualification requirements. An affiliated company of a dealer is any entity that controls, is controlled by or is under common control with the dealer and whose activities are not limited solely to the solicitation of municipal securities business.
 
[2] A solicitation is a direct or indirect communication with an issuer for the purpose of obtaining or retaining municipal securities business. Guidance on the definition of solicitation is provided in Rule G-38 Interpretation - Interpretive Notice on the Definition of Solicitation Under Rules G-37 and G-38, June 8, 2006, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book. Municipal securities business includes negotiated underwritings, private placements and other agency offerings, financial advisory or consultant engagements, and remarketing agent engagements.
 
[3] Under the prior version of Rule G-38, dealers were required, among other things, to make certain disclosures to issuers and to the MSRB in connection with their use of paid consultants to communicate with issuers to obtain or retain municipal securities business.
 
[4] Instructions for Forms G-37, G-37x and G-38t, available in the Political Contributions Information area of the MSRB's website at www.msrb.org, provides detailed instructions for completing Form G-38t.
Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
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.

Blind Advertisements

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.[1]  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.[2]  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.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]


[1] These methods are not intended to be the exclusive means by which a dealer could establish that the customer initiated the order.

[2] See Rule G-17 Interpretation – Interpretive Notice Regarding Rule G-17, on Disclosure of Material Facts, March 20, 2002, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

[3] See Rule G-17 Interpretation – Interpretation on Customer Protection Obligations Relating to the Marketing of 529 College Savings Plans, August 7, 2006, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

[4] 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).

[5] 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.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Reminder of Customer Protection Obligations in Connection with Sales of Municipal Securities
Rule Number:

Rule G-19, Rule G-47

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board ("MSRB") is publishing this notice to remind brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers ("dealers") of their customer protection obligations—specifically the application of Rule G-17, on fair dealing, and Rule G-19, on suitability—in connection with their municipal securities sales activities, including but not limited to situations in which dealers offer sales incentives.[1] 

Basic Customer Protection Obligation

At the core of the MSRB's customer protection rules is Rule G-17 which provides that, in the conduct of its municipal securities activities, each dealer shall deal fairly with all persons and shall not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice.  The rule encompasses two basic principles: an anti-fraud prohibition similar to the standard set forth in Rule 10b-5 adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and a general duty to deal fairly even in the absence of fraud.  All activities of dealers must be viewed in light of these basic principles, regardless of whether other MSRB rules establish specific requirements applicable to such activities.

Disclosure

The MSRB has interpreted Rule G-17 to require a dealer, in connection with any transaction in municipal securities, to disclose to its customer, at or prior to the sale of the securities to the customer, 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.[2]  This duty applies to any transaction in a municipal security regardless of whether the dealer has recommended the transaction.  Dealers should make certain that information they provide to their customers, whether provided under an affirmative disclosure obligation imposed by MSRB rules or in response to questions from customers, is correct and not misleading.  Further, dealers are reminded that disclosures made to customers as required under MSRB rules do not relieve dealers of their suitability obligations—including the obligation to consider the customer's financial status, tax status and investment objectives—if they have recommended transactions in municipal securities.

Suitability

Under Rule G-19, a dealer that recommends to a customer a transaction in a municipal security must have reasonable grounds for believing that the recommendation is suitable, based upon information available from the issuer of the security or otherwise and the facts disclosed by or otherwise known about the customer.[3]  To assure that a dealer effecting a recommended transaction with a non-institutional customer has the information needed about the customer to make its suitability determination, Rule G-19 requires the dealer to make reasonable efforts to obtain information concerning the customer's financial status, tax status and investment objectives, as well as any other information reasonable and necessary in making the recommendation.[4]  Dealers are reminded that the obligation arising under Rule G-19 in connection with a recommended transaction requires a meaningful analysis, taking into consideration the information obtained about the customer and the security, which establishes the reasonable grounds for believing that the recommendation is suitable.  Such suitability determinations should be based on the appropriately weighted factors that are relevant in any particular set of facts and circumstances, which factors may vary from transaction to transaction.  Pursuant to Rule G-27, on supervision, dealers must have written supervisory procedures in place that are reasonably designed to ensure compliance with the Rule G-19 obligation to undertake a suitability analysis in connection with every recommended transaction, and dealers must enforce these procedures to ensure that such meaningful analysis does in fact occur in connection with the dealer's recommended transactions.

Other Sales Practice Principles

Dealers must keep in mind the requirements under Rule G-17—that they deal fairly with all persons and that they not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice—when considering the appropriateness of day-to-day sales-related activities with respect to municipal securities.  In some cases, certain sales-related activities are governed in part by specific MSRB rules, such as Rule G-19 (as described above), Rule G-18 on execution of transactions, and Rule G-30 on prices and commissions.  Other activities may not be explicitly addressed by a specific MSRB rule.  In either case, the general principles of Rule G-17 always apply.

In particular, dealers must ensure that they do not engage in transactions that are unfair to customers under Rule G-17.  This principle applies in the case of an individual transaction to ensure that the dealer does not unfairly attempt to increase its own revenue or otherwise advance its interests without due regard to the customer's interests.  In addition, where a dealer consistently recommends that customers invest in the municipal securities that offer the dealer the highest compensation, such pattern or general practice may, depending on the facts and circumstances, constitute a violation of Rule G-17 if the recommendation of such municipal securities over the other municipal securities offered by the dealer does not reflect a legitimate investment-based purpose.

With respect to sales incentives, the MSRB has previously interpreted Rule G-20, relating to gifts, gratuities and non-cash compensation, to require a dealer that sponsors a sales contest involving representatives who are not employed by the sponsoring dealer to have in place written agreements with these representatives.[5]  Dealers are also reminded that Rule G-20(d) establishes standards regarding non-cash incentives for sales of municipal securities that are substantially similar to those currently applicable to the public offering of corporate securities under NASD Rule 2710(i) but also include "total production" and "equal weighting" requirements for internal sales contests.  Dealers should be mindful that financial incentives may cause an associated person (whether an associated person of the dealer offering the sales incentive or an associated person of another dealer) to favor one municipal security over another and thereby potentially compromise the dealer's obligations under MSRB rules, including Rules G-17 and G-19.  Rule G-17 may be violated if a dealer or any of its associated persons engages in any marketing activities that result in a customer being treated unfairly, or if the dealer or any of its associated persons engages in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice in connection with such marketing activities.  The MSRB also believes that, depending upon the specific facts and circumstances, a dealer may violate Rule G-17 if it acts in a manner that is reasonably likely to induce another dealer or such other dealer's associated persons to violate the principles of Rule G-17 or other MSRB customer protection rules, such as Rule G-18, G-19 or Rule G-30. 


[1] The principles enunciated in this notice were previously discussed, in the context of the 529 college savings plan market, in Rule G-17 Interpretation - Interpretation on Customer Protection Obligations Relating to the Marketing of 529 College Savings Plans (August 7, 2006), reprinted in MSRB Rule Book. This notice makes clear that the general principles discussed in the August 2006 interpretation also apply in the context of the markets for municipal bonds, notes and other types of municipal securities. This notice in no way alters the substance or applicability of the August 2006 interpretation with respect to the 529 college savings plan market.

[2] See Rule G-17 Interpretation - Interpretive Notice Regarding Rule G-17, on Disclosure of Material Facts (March 20, 2002), reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

[3] The MSRB has previously stated that most situations in which a dealer brings a municipal security to the attention of a customer involve an implicit recommendation of the security to the customer, but determining whether a particular transaction is in fact recommended depends on an analysis of all the relevant facts and circumstances.  See , February 17, 1998Rule G-19 Interpretive Letter - Recommendations, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.  The MSRB also has provided guidance on recommendations in the context of on-line communications in , September 25, 2002Rule G-19 Interpretation - Notice Regarding Application of Rule G-19, on Suitability of Recommendations and Transaction, to Online Communications, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

[4] Rule G-8(a)(x)(F) requires that dealers maintain records for each customer of such information about the customer used in making recommendations to the customer. Rule G-19(e), on churning, also prohibits a dealer from recommending transactions to a customer that are excessive in size or frequency, in view of information known to such dealer concerning the customer's financial background, tax status and investment objectives.

[5] See Rule G-20 Interpretive Letter - Authorization of sales contests, June 25, 1982, reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Reminder of Obligations Under Rule G-37 on Political Contributions and Rule G-27 on Supervision When Sponsoring Meetings and Conferences Involving Issuer Officials
Rule Number:

Rule G-27, Rule G-37

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]


[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

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Dealer Payments In Connection With the Municipal Securities Issuance Process
Rule Number:

Rule G-17, Rule G-20

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (“MSRB”) is publishing this notice to remind brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (collectively, “dealers”) of the application of Rule G-20, on gifts, gratuities and non-cash compensation, and Rule G-17, on fair dealing, in connection with certain payments made and expenses reimbursed during the municipal bond issuance process.  These rules are designed to avoid conflicts of interest and to promote fair practices in the municipal securities market.

Rule G-20, among other things, prohibits dealers from giving, directly or indirectly, any thing or service of value, including gratuities, in excess of $100 per year to a person other than an employee or partner of the dealer, if such payments or services are in relation to the municipal securities activities of the recipient’s employer.  The rule provides an exception from the $100 annual limit for “normal business dealings,” which includes occasional gifts of meals or tickets to theatrical, sporting, and other entertainments hosted by the dealer (i.e., if dealer personnel accompany the recipient to the meal, sporting or other event), legitimate business functions sponsored by the dealer that are recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a deductible business expense, or gifts of reminder advertising.  However, these “gifts” must not be “so frequent or so extensive as to raise any question of propriety.”  Rule G-17 provides that, in the conduct of its municipal securities activities, each dealer shall deal fairly with all persons and shall not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice.

Dealers should consider carefully whether payments they make in regard to expenses of issuer personnel in the course of the bond issuance process, including in particular but not limited to payments for which dealers seek reimbursement from bond proceeds, comport with the requirements of these rules.  Payment of excessive or lavish entertainment or travel expenses may violate Rule G-20 if they result in benefits to issuer personnel that exceed the limits set forth in the rule, and can be especially problematic where such payments cover expenses incurred by family or other guests of issuer personnel.  Depending on the specific facts and circumstances, excessive payments could be considered to be gifts or gratuities made to such issuer personnel in relation to the issuer’s municipal securities activities.  Thus, for example, a dealer acting as a financial advisor or underwriter may violate Rule G-20 by paying for excessive or lavish travel, meal, lodging and entertainment expenses in connection with an offering (such as may be incurred for rating agency trips, bond closing dinners and other functions) that inure to the personal benefit of issuer personnel and that exceed the limits or otherwise violate the requirements of the rule.

Furthermore, dealers should be aware that characterizing excessive or lavish expenses for the personal benefit of issuer personnel as an expense of the issue may, depending on all the facts and circumstances, constitute a deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice.  A dealer may violate Rule G-17 by knowingly facilitating such a practice by, for example, making arrangements and advancing funds for the excessive or lavish expenses to be incurred and thereafter claiming such expenses as an expense of the issue.

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 in this area.  The MSRB notes that state and local laws also may limit or proscribe activities of the type addressed in this notice. 

By publishing this notice, the MSRB does not mean to suggest that issuers or dealers curtail legitimate expenses in connection with the bond issuance process.  For example, it sometimes is advantageous for issuer officials to visit bond rating agencies to provide information that will facilitate the rating of the new issue.  It is the character, nature and extent of expenses paid by dealers or reimbursed as an expense of issue, even if thought to be a common industry practice, which may raise a question under applicable MSRB rules. 

The MSRB encourages all parties involved in the municipal bond issuance process to maintain the integrity of this process and investor and public confidence in the municipal securities market by adhering to the highest ethical standards. 


NOTE: This notice was revised effective May 6, 2016. View Notice 2015-21 (November 9, 2015).

 

Interpretive Guidance - Interpretive Notices
Publication date:
Reminder Notice on Use of "List Offering Price/Takedown" Indicator: RULE G-14
Rule Number:

Rule G-14

On January 8, 2007, certain amendments to Rule G-14 concerning the “List  Offering Price/Takedown” indicator became effective. These amendments require the use of the “List Offering Price/Takedown” indicator on primary market sale transactions executed on the first day of trading of a new issue:

  • by a sole underwriter, syndicate manager, syndicate member or selling group member at the published list offering price for the security (“List Offering Price Transaction”); or
  • by a sole underwriter or syndicate manager to a syndicate or selling group member at a discount from the published list offering price for the security (“RTRS Takedown Transaction”).[1]

Since implementation of the revised “List Offering Price/Takedown” indicator, the MSRB has received several questions concerning the use of the indicator on certain transactions executed by sole underwriters, syndicate managers, syndicate members, or selling group members on the first day of trading in a new issue. These questions relate to whether inter-dealer transactions at a price equal to the “list offering price” are included in the definition of “List Offering Price Transactions.” The MSRB wishes to clarify that inter-dealer transactions are not included in the definition of “List Offering Price Transactions.”[2]

The MSRB has previously clarified that the published list offering price is defined as the “publicly announced ‘initial offering price’ at which a new issue of municipal securities is to be offered to the public.”[3] A large number of sales to investors at the published list price are expected on the first day of trading of a new issue, and these transactions offer relatively little value to real-time transparency. Consequently, the “List Offering Price” exception provides these transactions with an end-of-day exception to the 15-minute deadline. An inter-dealer sale transaction at a price equal to the list offering price, however, does provide useful current market information, since it can be presumed that the security is destined to be redistributed to investors at a price above the published list offering price. Inter-dealer transactions at the list offering price, therefore, are not included in the definition of “List Offering Price Transactions,” and identifying such transactions with the “List Offering Price/Takedown” indicator would violate MSRB Rule G-14.


[1] See Rule G-14 RTRS Procedures (d)(vii). A transaction reported with the “List Offering Price/Takedown” indicator receives an end-of-day exception to the 15-minute reporting deadline.

[2] An inter-dealer transaction may meet the definition of an “RTRS Takedown Transaction” when a sole underwriter or syndicate manager executes a transaction with a syndicate or selling group member at a discount from the published list offering price for the security.

[3] See “Reminder Notice on ‘List Offering Price’ and Three-Hour Exception for Real-Time Transaction Reporting: Rule G-14,” MSRB Notice 2004-40 (December 10, 2004). If the price is not publicly disseminated (e.g., if the security is a “not reoffered” maturity within a serial issue), the transaction is not considered a “List Offering Price Transaction.”