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The Effect of a Ban on Municipal Securities Business under Rule G-37 Arising During a Pre-Existing Engagement Relating to Municipal Fund Securities
Rule G-37, on political contributions and prohibitions on municipal securities business, prohibits any broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer (a "dealer") from engaging in municipal securities business with an issuer within two years after any contribution (other than certain de minimis contributions) to an official of such issuer made by: (i) the dealer; (ii) any municipal finance professional associated with such dealer; or (iii) any political action committee controlled by the dealer or any municipal finance professional. The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board ("MSRB") has received inquiries regarding the effect of a ban on municipal securities business with an issuer arising from a contribution made after a dealer has entered into a long-term contract to serve as the primary distributor of the issuer's municipal fund securities.
In an interpretive notice published in 1997 (the "1997 Interpretation"), the MSRB stated that a dealer subject to a prohibition on municipal securities business with an issuer is allowed to continue to execute certain issue-specific contractual obligations in effect prior to the date of the contribution that caused the prohibition. For example, dealers that had already executed a contract with the issuer to serve as underwriter or financial advisor for a new issue of debt securities prior to the contribution could continue in these capacities.
The 1997 Interpretation also addressed certain types of on-going, non-issue-specific municipal securities business that a dealer may have contracted with an issuer to perform prior to the making of a contribution that causes a prohibition on municipal securities business with the issuer. For example, the MSRB noted that a dealer may act as remarketing agent for an outstanding issue of municipal securities or may continue to underwrite a specific commercial paper program so long as the contract for such services was in effect prior to the contribution. The MSRB stated that these activities are not considered new municipal securities business and may be performed by dealers that are banned from municipal securities business with an issuer. The MSRB further stated, however, that provisions in existing contracts that allow for changes in the services provided by the dealer or compensation paid by the issuer would be viewed by the MSRB as new municipal securities business and, therefore, rule G-37 would preclude a dealer subject to a ban on municipal securities business from performing such additional functions or receiving additional compensation. The MSRB cited two examples of these types of provisions. The first involved a contract to serve as remarketing agent for a variable rate issue that might permit a fixed rate conversion, with a concomitant increase in the per bond compensation. The second example involved an agreement to underwrite a commercial paper program that might include terms for increasing the size of the program, with no increase in per bond fees but an increase in overall compensation resulting from the larger outstanding balance of commercial paper. In both cases, the MSRB viewed the exercise of these provisions as new municipal securities business that would be banned under the rule.
In the 1997 Interpretation, the MSRB recognized that there is great variety in the terms of agreements regarding municipal securities business and that its guidance in the 1997 Interpretation may not adequately deal with all such agreements. The MSRB sought input on other situations where contracts obligate dealers to perform various types of activities after the date of a contribution that triggers a ban on municipal securities business and stated that additional interpretations might be issued based upon such input.
The MSRB understands that dealers typically are selected by issuers to serve as primary distributors of municipal fund securities on terms that differ significantly from those of a dealer selected to underwrite an issue of debt securities. Issuers generally enter into long-term agreements (in many cases with terms of ten years or longer) with the primary distributor of municipal fund securities for services that include the sale in a continuous primary offering of one or more categories or classes of the securities issued within the framework of a single program of investments. In addition, an issuer may often engage a particular dealer to serve as the primary distributor of its municipal fund securities as part of a team of professionals that includes the dealer's affiliated investment management firm, which is charged with managing the investment of the underlying portfolios.
The MSRB believes that the guidance provided in the 1997 Interpretation, although appropriate for the circumstances discussed therein, may not be adequate to address the unique features of municipal fund securities programs. For example, so long as a program realizes net in-flows of investor cash, the size of an offering of municipal fund securities will necessarily increase over time. Under most compensation arrangements in the market, any net in-flow of cash generally would result in an increase in total compensation, causing any new sales of municipal fund securities that exceed redemptions to be considered new municipal securities business under the 1997 Interpretation. Also, the addition by the issuer of a new category of investments (e.g., a new portfolio in an aged-based Section 529 college savings plan created for children born in the most recent year) could be considered a new offering from which such dealer might be banned, even where such new category may have been clearly contemplated at the outset of the dealer's engagement. Further, the MSRB understands that the repercussions to an issuer of municipal fund securities or investors in such securities of a sudden change in the primary distributor (and possible concurrent change in the investment manager) resulting from a ban on municipal securities business arising during the term of an existing arrangement often will be significantly greater than in the case of an underwriting or other primary market activity relating to the typical debt offering. Issuers could be faced with redesigning existing programs and investors may need to establish new relationships with different dealers in order to maintain their investments.
As a result, the MSRB believes that further interpretive guidance is necessary in this area. The MSRB is of the view that, where a dealer has become subject to a ban on municipal securities business with an issuer of municipal fund securities with which it is currently serving as primary distributor, any continued sales of existing categories of municipal fund securities for such issuer during the duration of the ban would not be considered new municipal securities business if the basis for determining compensation does not change during that period, even if total compensation increases as a result of net in-flows of cash. Further, the MSRB believes that any changes in the services to be provided by the dealer to the issuer throughout the duration of the ban that are contemplated under the pre-existing contractual arrangement (e.g., the addition of new categories of securities within the framework of the existing program) would not be considered new municipal securities business so long as such changes do not result in: (1) an increase in total compensation received by the dealer for services performed for the duration of the ban (whether paid during the ban or as a deferred payment after the ban); or (2) in an extension of the term of the dealer in its current role.
 See Rule G-37 Interpretation - Interpretation on Prohibition on Municipal Securities Business Pursuant to Rule G-37, February 21, 1997, MSRB Rule Book (January 2002) at 232.
 The various categories generally reflect interests in funds having different allocations of underlying investments. For example, a so-called Section 529 college savings plan may offer one category that represents investments primarily in equity securities and another in debt securities, or may have categories where the allocation shifts from primarily equity securities to primarily debt or money market securities as the number of years remaining until the beginning of college decreases. In the case of state and local government pools, the types of securities in the underlying portfolios may be allocated so as to create one category of short-term "money market" like investments (i.e., with net asset value maintained at approximately $1 per share) and another with a longer timeframe and fluctuating net asset value.