Select regulatory documents by category:
Regulatory Document Type
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. 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”) 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.
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. The MSRB has also stated that the determination of whether a PAC of a bank dealer 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. 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.
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, 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.
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. 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.
The MSRB also has previously provided guidance in 2005 with regard to supervisory procedures  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. 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. 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). 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.
 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.
 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).
 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.
 See Rule G-37 Question & Answer No. IV.24 (May 24, 1994).
 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.
 See Rule G-37 Question & Answer No. IV.24 (May 24, 1994).
 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.
 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.
 See Rule G-37 Question & Answer No. III.7 (September 22, 2005) for a discussion of potential indirect contributions through affiliated PACs.
 See Rule G-37 Question & Answer No. III.4 (August 6, 1996).
 See Rule G-37 Question & Answer No. III.5 (August 6, 1996).
 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.
 See Rule G-37 Question & Answer No. III.7 (September 22, 2005).
 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.
 See Rule G-37 Interpretive Letter – Supervisory procedures relating to indirect contributions; conference accounts and 527 organizations (December 21, 2006).
Interpretation on Priority of Orders for Securities in a Primary Offering under Rule G-17
On December 22, 1987, the MSRB published a notice interpreting the fair practice principles of Rule G-17 as they apply to the priority of orders for new issue securities (the “1987 notice”). The MSRB wishes to update the guidance provided in the 1987 notice due to changes in the marketplace and subsequent amendments to Rule G-11.
Rule G-11(e) requires syndicates to establish priority provisions and, if such priority provisions may be changed, to specify the procedure for making changes. The rule also permits a syndicate to allow the syndicate manager, on a case-by-case basis, to allocate securities in a manner other than in accordance with the priority provisions if the syndicate manager determines in its discretion that it is in the best interests of the syndicate. Under Rule G-11(f), syndicate managers must furnish information, in writing, to the syndicate members about terms and conditions required by the issuer, priority provisions and the ability of the syndicate manager to allocate away from the priority provisions, among other things. Syndicate members must promptly furnish this information, in writing, to others upon request. This requirement was adopted to allow prospective purchasers to frame their orders to the syndicate in a manner that would enhance their ability to obtain securities since the syndicate’s allocation procedures would be known.
In addition to traditional priority provisions found in syndicate agreements, municipal securities underwriters frequently agree to other terms and conditions specified by the issuer of the securities relating to the distribution of the issuer’s securities. Such provisions include, but are not limited to, requirements concerning retail order periods. MSRB Rule G-17 states that, in the conduct of its municipal securities business, each broker, dealer, and municipal securities dealer (“dealer”) shall deal fairly with all persons and shall not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice. These requirements specifically apply to an underwriter’s activities conducted with a municipal securities issuer, including any commitments that the underwriter makes regarding the distribution of the issuer’s securities. An underwriter may violate the duty of fair dealing by making such commitments to the issuer and then failing to honor them. This could happen, for example, if an underwriter fails to accept, give priority to, or allocate to retail orders in conformance with the provisions agreed to in an undertaking to provide a retail order period. A dealer who wishes to allocate securities in a manner that is inconsistent with an issuer’s requirements must not do so without the issuer’s consent.
Except as otherwise provided in this notice, principles of fair dealing will require the syndicate manager to give priority to customer orders over orders for its own account, orders by other members of the syndicate for their own accounts, orders from persons controlling, controlled by, or under common control with any syndicate member (“affiliates”) for their own accounts, or orders for their respective related accounts, to the extent feasible and consistent with the orderly distribution of securities in a primary offering. This principle may affect a wide range of dealers and their related accounts given changes in organizational structures due to consolidations, acquisitions, and other corporate actions that have, in many cases, resulted in increasing numbers of dealers, and their related dealer accounts, becoming affiliated with one another.
Rule G-17 does not require the syndicate manager to accord greater priority to customer orders over orders submitted by non-syndicate dealers (including selling group members). However, prioritization of customer orders over orders of non-syndicate dealers may be necessary to honor terms and conditions agreed to with issuers, such as requirements relating to retail orders.
The MSRB understands that syndicate managers must balance a number of competing interests in allocating securities in a primary offering and must be able quickly to determine when it is appropriate to allocate away from the priority provisions, to the extent consistent with the issuer’s requirements. Thus, Rule G-17 does not preclude the syndicate manager or managers from according equal or greater priority to orders by syndicate members for their own accounts, affiliates for their own accounts, or their respective related accounts if, on a case-by-case basis, the syndicate manager determines in its discretion that it is in the best interests of the syndicate. However, the syndicate manager shall have the burden of justifying that such allocation was in the best interests of the syndicate. Syndicate managers should ensure that all allocations, even those away from the priority provisions, are fair and reasonable and consistent with principles of fair dealing under Rule G-17.
It should be noted that all of the principles of fair dealing articulated in this notice extend to any underwriter of a primary offering, whether a sole underwriter, a syndicate manager, or a syndicate member.
 MSRB Notice of Interpretation Concerning Priority of Orders for New Issue Securities: Rule G-17 (December 22, 1987).
 The requirements of Rule G-11(f) with respect to issuer requirements were adopted by the MSRB in 1998. See Exchange Act Release No. 40717 (November 27, 1998) (File No. SR-MSRB-97-15).
 “Related account” has the meaning set forth in Rule G-11(a)(xi).
MSRB Reminds Firms of Their Sales Practice and Due Diligence Obligations when Selling Municipal Securities in the Secondary Market
Brokers, dealers and municipal securities dealers (dealers or firms) must fully understand the bonds they sell in order to meet their disclosure, suitability and pricing obligations under the rules of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) and federal securities laws. These obligations are not limited to firms involved in primary offerings. Dealers must also obtain, analyze and disclose all material facts about secondary market transactions that are known to the dealer, or that are reasonably accessible to the market through established industry sources.
Those sources include, among other things, official statements, continuing disclosures, trade data, and other information made available through the MSRB’s Electronic Municipal Market Access system (EMMA). Firms may also have a duty to obtain and disclose information that is not available through EMMA, if it is material and available through other public sources. The public availability of material information, through EMMA or otherwise, does not relieve a firm of its duty to disclose that information. Firms must also have reasonable grounds for determining that a recommendation is suitable based on information available from the issuer of the security or otherwise. Firms must also use this information to determine the prevailing market price of a security as the basis for establishing a fair price in a transaction with a customer. To meet these requirements, firms must perform an independent analysis of the bonds they sell, and may not rely solely on a bond’s credit rating.
Continuing disclosures made by issuers to the MSRB via EMMA are part of the information that dealers must obtain, disclose and consider in meeting their regulatory obligations. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has recently approved amendments to Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12, governing continuing disclosures. Firms that sell municipal securities should review and, if necessary, update their procedures to reflect the amendments, which have a compliance date of December 1, 2010.
Background and Discussion
MSRB Disclosure, Suitability and Pricing Rules
MSRB Rule G-17 provides that, in the conduct of its municipal securities activities, each dealer must deal fairly with all persons and may not engage in any deceptive, dishonest or unfair practice. 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, 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. This includes the obligation to give customers a complete description of the security, including a description of the features that likely would be considered significant by a reasonable investor and facts that are material to assessing the potential risks of the investment.
Such disclosures must be made at the “time of trade,” which the MSRB defines as at or before the point at which the investor and the dealer agree to make the trade. Rule G-17 applies to all sales of municipal securities, whether or not a transaction was recommended by a broker-dealer. This means that municipal securities dealers must disclose all information required to be disclosed by the rule even if the trade is self-directed.
MSRB Rule G-19 requires that a dealer that recommends a municipal securities transaction have reasonable grounds for believing that the recommendation is suitable for the customer based upon information available from the issuer of the security or otherwise and the facts disclosed by, or otherwise known about, the customer.
MSRB Rule G-30 requires that dealers trade with customers at prices that are fair and reasonable, taking into consideration all relevant factors. The MSRB has stated that the concept of a “fair and reasonable” price includes the concept that the price must “bear a reasonable relationship to the prevailing market price of the security.” The impetus for the MSRB’s Real-time Transaction Reporting System (RTRS), which was implemented in January 2005, was to allow market participants to monitor market price levels on a real-time basis and thus assist them in identifying changes in market prices that may have been caused by news or market events. The MSRB now makes the transaction data reported to RTRS available to the public through EMMA.
In meeting these disclosure, suitability and pricing obligations, firms must take into account all material information that is known to the firm or that is available through “established industry sources,” including official statements, continuing disclosures, and trade data, much of which is now available through EMMA. Resources outside of EMMA may include press releases, research reports and other data provided by independent sources. Established industry sources can also include material event notices and other data filed with former nationally recognized municipal securities information repositories (NRMSIRs) before July 1, 2009. Therefore, firms should review their policies and procedures for obtaining material information about the bonds they sell to make sure they are reasonably designed to access all material information that is available, whether through EMMA or other established industry sources. The MSRB has also noted that the fact that material information is publicly available through EMMA does not relieve a firm of its duty to specifically disclose it to the customer at the time of trade, or to consider it in determining the suitability of a bond for a specific customer. Importantly, the dealer may not simply direct the customer to EMMA to fulfill its time-of-trade disclosure obligations under Rule G-17.
Amendments to Rule 15c2-12 Concerning Continuing Disclosure
Securities Exchange Act Rule 15c2-12 requires underwriters participating in municipal bond offerings that are subject to that rule to receive, review, and distribute official statements of issuers of primary municipal securities offerings, and prohibits underwriters from purchasing or selling municipal securities covered by the rule unless they have first reasonably determined that the issuer or an obligated person has contractually agreed to make certain continuing disclosures to the MSRB, including certain financial information and notice of certain events. The MSRB makes such disclosure public via EMMA.
Financial information to be disclosed under the rule consists of the following:
- Annual financial information updating the financial information in the official statement;
- Audited financial statements, if available and not included within the annual financial information; and
- Notices of failure to provide such financial information on a timely basis.
Currently, the rule enumerates the following as notice events, if material:
- Principal and interest payment delinquencies;
- Non-payment related defaults;
- Unscheduled draws on debt service reserves reflecting financial difficulties;
- Unscheduled draws on credit enhancements reflecting financial difficulties;
- Substitution of credit or liquidity providers or their failure to perform;
- Adverse tax opinions or events affecting the tax-exempt status of the security;
- Modifications to rights of security holders;
- Bond calls;
- Release, substitution or sale of property securing repayment of the securities; and
- Rating changes.
Rule 15c2-12(c) also prohibits any dealer from recommending the purchase or sale of a municipal security unless it has procedures in place that provide reasonable assurance that it will receive prompt notice of any event notice reported pursuant to the rule. Firms should review any applicable continuing disclosures made available through EMMA and other established industry sources and take such disclosures into account in undertaking its suitability and pricing determinations.
On May 26, 2010, the SEC amended the rule’s disclosure obligations, with a compliance date of December 1, 2010, to: (1) apply continuing disclosure requirements to new primary offerings of certain variable rate demand obligations (VRDOs); (2) add four new notice events; (3) remove the materiality standard for certain notice events; and (4) require that event notices be filed in a timely manner but no later than 10 business days after their occurrence. With respect to the tax status of the security, the rule has been broadened to require disclosure of adverse tax opinions, issuance by the IRS of proposed or final determinations of taxability and other material notices, and determinations or events affecting the tax status of the bonds (including a Notice of Proposed Issue). Firms that deal in municipal securities should familiarize themselves with these amendments, and, if necessary, modify their policies and procedures to incorporate this additional disclosure accordingly.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) noted in its Regulatory Notice 09-35 that, if a firm discovers through its Rule 15c2-12 procedures or otherwise that an issuer has failed to make filings required under its continuing disclosure agreements, the firm must take this information into consideration in meeting its disclosure obligations under MSRB Rule G-17 and in assessing the suitability of the issuer’s bonds under MSRB Rule G-19.
In order to meet their obligations under MSRB Rules G-17 and G-19, firms must analyze and disclose to customers the risks associated with the bonds they sell, including, but not limited to, the bond’s credit risk. A credit rating is a third-party opinion of the of the credit quality of a municipal security. While the MSRB generally considers credit ratings and rating changes to be material information for purposes of disclosure, suitability and pricing, they are only one factor to be considered, and dealers should not solely rely on credit ratings as a substitute for their own assessment of a bond’s credit risk.  Moreover, different agencies use different quantitative and qualitative criteria and methodologies to determine their rating opinions. Dealers should familiarize themselves with the rating systems used by rating agencies in order to understand and assess the relevance of a particular rating to the firm’s overall assessment of the bond.. With respect to credit or liquidity enhanced securities, the MSRB has stated that material information includes the following, if known to the dealer or if reasonably available from established industry sources: (i) the credit rating of the issue or lack thereof; (ii) the underlying credit rating or lack thereof, (iii) the identity of any credit enhancer or liquidity provider; and (iv) the credit rating of the credit provider and liquidity provider, including potential rating actions (e.g., downgrade). Additionally, material terms of the credit facility or liquidity facility should be disclosed (e.g., any circumstances under which a standby bond purchase agreement would terminate without a mandatory tender).
Other Material Information
In addition to a bond’s credit quality, firms must obtain, analyze and disclose other material information about a bond, including but not limited to whether the bond may be redeemed prior to maturity in-whole, in-part or in extraordinary circumstances, whether the bond has non-standard features that may affect price or yield calculations, whether the bond was issued with original issue discount or has other features that would affect its tax status, and other key features likely to be considered significant by a reasonable investor. For example, for VRDOs, auction rate securities or other securities for which interest payments may fluctuate, firms should explain to customers the basis on which periodic interest rate resets are determined. The MSRB has stated that firms should take particular care with respect to new products that may be introduced into the municipal securities market, existing products that may have complex structures that can differ materially from issue to issue, and outstanding securities that may trade infrequently, may be issued by less well-known issuers, or may have unusual features.
Firms are reminded that MSRB Rule G-27 requires firms to supervise their municipal securities business, and to ensure that they have adequate policies and procedures in place for monitoring the effectiveness of their supervisory systems. Specifically, firms must:
- Supervise the conduct of the municipal securities activities of the firm and associated persons to ensure compliance with all MSRB rules, the Exchange Act and the rules there under;
- Have adequate written supervisory procedures; and
- Implement supervisory controls to ensure that their supervisory procedures are adequate.
Rule G-27 requires that a firm’s supervisory procedures provide for the regular and frequent review and approval by a designated principal of customer accounts introduced or carried by the dealer in which transactions in municipal securities are effected, with such review being designed to ensure that transactions are in accordance with all applicable rules and to detect and prevent irregularities and abuses. Although the rule does not establish a specific procedure for ensuring compliance with the requirement to provide disclosures to customers pursuant to Rule G-17, firms should consider including in their procedures for reviewing accounts and transactions specific processes for documenting or otherwise ascertaining that such disclosures have been made.
Questions to Consider
Before selling any municipal bond, dealers should make sure that they fully understand the bonds they are selling in order to make adequate disclosure to customers under Rule G-17, to ensure that recommendations are suitable under Rule G-19, and to ensure that they are fairly priced under Rule G-30. Among other things, dealers should ask and be able to answer the following questions:
- What are the bond’s key terms and features and structural characteristics, including but not limited to its issuer, source of funding (e.g., general obligation or revenue bond), repayment priority, and scheduled repayment rate? (Much of this information will be in the Official Statement, which for many municipal bonds can be obtained by entering the CUSIP number in the MuniSearch box at www.emma.msrb.org). Be aware, however, data in the Official Statement may have been superseded by the issuer’s on-going disclosures.
Does information available through EMMA or other established industry sources indicate that an issuer is delinquent in its material event notice and other continuing disclosure filings? Delinquencies should be viewed as a red flag.
- What other public material information about the bond or its issuer is available through established industry sources other than EMMA?
- What is the bond’s rating? Has the issuer of the bond recently been downgraded? Has the issuer filed any recent default or other event notices, or has any other information become available through established industry sources that might call into question whether the published rating has been revised to take such event into consideration?
- Is the bond insured, or does it benefit from liquidity support, a letter of credit or is it otherwise supported by a third party? If so, check the credit rating of the bond insurer or other backing, and the bond’s underlying rating (without third party support). If supported by a third party, review the terms and conditions under which the third party support may terminate.
- How is it priced? Be aware that the price of a bond can be priced above or below its par value for many reasons, including changes in the creditworthiness of a bond's issuer and a host of other factors, including prevailing interest rates.
- How and when will interest on the bond be paid? Most municipal bonds pay semiannually, but zero coupon municipal bonds pay all interest at the time the bond matures. Variable rate bonds typically will pay interest more frequently, usually on a monthly basis in variable amounts.
- What is the bond’s tax status, under both state and federal laws? Is it subject to the Federal Alternate Minimum Tax? Is it fully taxable (e.g., Build America Bonds)?
- What are its call provisions? Call provisions allow the issuer to retire the bond before it matures. How would a call affect expected future income?
 MSRB Rule G-17 applies to all transactions in municipal securities, including those in both the primary and secondary market. MSRB Rule G-32 specifically addresses the delivery of the official statement in connection with primary offerings.
 See MSRB Notice 2009-42 (July 14, 2009).
 A dealer’s specific investor protection obligations, including its disclosure, fair practice and suitability obligations under Rules G-17 and G-19, may be affected by the status of an institutional investor as a Sophisticated Municipal Market Professional (“SMMP”). See Rule G-17 Interpretation – Notice Regarding the Application of MSRB Rules to Transactions with Sophisticated Municipal Market Professionals (April 30, 2002).
 See MSRB Notice 2009-42, supra n.2.
 Rule G-18 requires that a dealer effecting an agency trade with a customer make a reasonable effort to obtain a price for the customer that is fair and reasonable in relation to prevailing market conditions.
 See MSRB Notice 2004-3 (January 26, 2004).
 Since July 1, 2009, material event notices are required to be filed through EMMA, which has replaced Bloomberg Municipal Repository; DPC DATA Inc.; Interactive Data Pricing and Reference Data, Inc.; and Standard & Poor’s Securities Evaluations, Inc. as the sole NRMSIR.
 The MSRB has also stated that providing adequate disclosure does not relieve a firm of its suitability obligations. See MSRB Notice 2007-17 (March 30, 2007).
 Rule G-32 does allow a dealer to satisfy its obligation to deliver an official statement to its customer during the primary offering disclosure period no later than the settlement of the transaction by advising the customer of how to obtain it on EMMA, unless the customer requests a paper copy. The delivery obligation under Rule G-32 is distinct from the duty to disclose material information under Rule G-17, which applies to all primary and secondary market transactions.
 Certain limited offerings, variable rate demand obligations, and small issues are exempt from Rule 15c2-12.
 “Obligated person” is defined as “any person, including an issuer of municipal securities, who is either generally or through an enterprise, fund or account of such person committed by contract or other arrangement to support payment of all, or part of the obligations of the municipal securities to be sold in the offering (other than providers of municipal bond insurance, letters of credit, or other liquidity facilities).”
 The new notice events are (1) tender offers, (2) bankruptcy, insolvency, receivership, or similar events, (3) consummation of mergers, consolidations, acquisitions, or asset sales, or entry into or termination of a definitive agreement related to do the same, if material, and (4) appointment of a successor or additional trustee or a change in the name of the trustee, if material.
 The amendments removed the materiality standard and require notices for the following events: (1) principal and interest payment delinquencies with respect to the securities being offered ; (2) unscheduled draws on debt service reserves reflecting financial difficulties; (3) unscheduled draws on credit enhancements reflecting financial difficulties; (4) substitution of credit or liquidity providers, or their failure to perform; (5) defeasances: and (6) rating changes. The amendments retained the materiality standard for the following events: (1) non-payment related defaults; (2) modifications to rights of security holders; (3) bond calls; and (4) release, substitution, or sale of property securing repayment of the securities.
 See MSRB Notice 2009-42, supra n.2. Ratings changes are reportable events under Rule 15c2-12.
 Not all municipal bonds are rated. While an absence of a credit rating is not, by itself, a determinant of low credit quality, it is a factor that the dealers should consider, and may warrant additional due diligence of the bond and its issuer by the dealer. In addition, MSRB Rule G-15 requires confirmation statements for customer trades in unrated municipal securities to disclose that the securities are not rated.
 See MSRB Notice 2009-42. The SEC has approved the MSRB’s proposal to require dealers to submit copies of credit enhancement and liquidity facility documents to EMMA pursuant to amended MSRB Rule G-34(c), which may increase the availability of such information to dealers. See Securities Exchange Act Release No. 62755, August 20, 2010 (File No. SR-MSRB-2010-02).
 See Notice Concerning Disclosure of Call Information to Customers of Municipal Securities, MSRB Interpretation of March 4, 1986.
 See Transactions in Municipal Securities With Non-Standard Features Affecting Price/Yield Calculations, MSRB Interpretation of June 12, 1995.
 See MSRB Notice 2005-01 (January 5, 2005); MSRB Notice 2009-41 (July 10, 2009).
 See MSRB Notice 2008-09 (February 19, 2008).
 See MSRB Notice 2009-42, supra n.2.