Supervisory Procedures Relating to Indirect Contributions: Conference Accounts and 527 Organizations
Supervisory procedures relating to indirect contributions: conference accounts and 527 organizations. This is in response to your request for confirmation that donations to segregated conference accounts of organizations such as the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) and Republican Governors Association (RGA) do not constitute contributions to an official of an issuer within the meaning of Rule G-37(b) without an intent to use the conference accounts as a device for contributing to the election activities of individual governors or other officials of issuers. You describe both organizations as independent, voluntary political organizations constituted under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code to raise money for political activities. You note that the organizations’ activities have the primary purpose of influencing gubernatorial elections but also seek to conduct policy conferences and workshops to help their members and other interested parties to understand and participate in public policy questions that confront state governments. You state that all Democratic governors are members of the DGA and all Republican governors are members of the RGA.
You further note that each organization has a wide variety of accounts into which it receives funds from individuals, organizations and other entities, with some accounts used to provide financial support to gubernatorial candidates and other accounts (including conference accounts) used exclusively to fund policy conferences. You state that the conference accounts are segregated from accounts that provide financial support to gubernatorial candidates and that neither organization permits transfers of funds from their conference accounts to any of their other accounts, including their administrative accounts. You represent that both organizations follow a standard practice of honoring any request by a donor to place donated funds in a conference account and that they have further committed to provide, upon a donor’s request, written confirmation prior to accepting a donation that the donated funds will be allocated to the conference account.
The MSRB cannot provide confirmation regarding the status under Rule G-37 of payments to any particular organization or account of such organization as such a determination requires an analysis of, among other things, the specific facts and circumstances of each individual payment, the written supervisory procedures of the broker, dealer or municipal securities dealer (“dealer”), and the efforts of the dealer to enforce such procedures. However, this letter reviews guidance previously provided by the MSRB that may assist you in undertaking such an analysis.
Under Rule G-37, on political contributions and prohibitions on municipal securities business, contributions to officials of an issuer by a dealer, a municipal finance professional (“MFP”) of the dealer, or a political action committee (“PAC”) controlled by the dealer or an MFP can result in the dealer being banned from municipal securities business with such issuer for a period of two years. Section (d) of Rule G-37 provides, in part, that no dealer or MFP shall, directly or indirectly, through or by any other person or means, do any act which would result in a violation of the ban on municipal securities business.
The MSRB has previously provided guidance regarding the potential for payments made to political parties, PACs or others to constitute indirect contributions to issuer officials for purposes of Rule G-37(d). In guidance published in 1996, the MSRB stated that a dealer would violate Rule G-37 by doing municipal securities business with an issuer after providing money to any person or entity when the dealer knows that such money will be given to an official of an issuer who could not receive such a contribution directly from the dealer without triggering the rule’s prohibition on municipal securities business. Further, depending on the specific facts and circumstances, a payment to a PAC or political party 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 a contribution made directly to an issuer official. In such circumstances, dealers should inquire of the PAC or political party how any funds received from the dealer would be used.
In 2005, the MSRB published guidance on dealers’ written supervisory procedures under Rule G-27, on supervision, relating to compliance with Rule G-37(d). The MSRB noted that 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 and non-dealer controlled PACs to contribute indirectly to an official of an issuer. Please note that the scope of Rule G-37(d) is not limited to the use of political parties and PACs as possible conduits for indirect contributions to issuer officials and, therefore, the need for such supervisory procedures would apply in connection with dealer and MFP payments to other types of political organizations as well, including but not limited to organizations constituted under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code.
The 2005 guidance on supervisory procedures included examples of certain provisions that dealers might include in their written supervisory procedures to ensure compliance with Rule G-37(d). The MSRB stated that such examples are not exclusive and are only suggestions, and that each dealer is required to evaluate its own circumstances and develop 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 Rule G-37(d). Thus, a dealer need not include the specific supervisory procedures described in the 2005 guidance in order to meet its obligation under Rule G-27(c) so long as the dealer in fact has, and enforces, other 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 Rule G-37(d).
The MSRB also has stated that payments to “housekeeping,” “conference” or “overhead” accounts of political parties are not safe harbors under Rule G-37 and that a dealer’s written supervisory procedures designed to ensure compliance with Rule G-37(d) must take into account such payments. The MSRB noted that “preemptive” instructions accompanying payments to housekeeping accounts of political parties stating that such payments are not to be used for the benefit of one or a limited number of issuer officials are not considered sufficient to meet the dealer’s obligations with regard to ensuring that the payment is not being made to circumvent the requirements of Rule G-37. Although payments to housekeeping, conference or overhead accounts are not safe harbors and preemptive instructions are not by themselves sufficient to establish compliance with Rule G-37(d), procedures permitting payments to political parties and other political organizations only if made to these types of accounts and/or requiring preemptive instructions regarding the use of such payments may be elements in a supervisory program that, together with other appropriate procedures, could adequately ensure compliance with Rule G-37(d), depending on the specific facts and circumstances. MSRB Interpretation of December 21, 2006.
 MFPs may make certain de minimis contributions to issuer officials without triggering the ban on business.
 See Rule G-37 Question and Answer No. III.4 (August 6, 1996), reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.
 See Rule G-37 Question and Answer No. III.5 (August 6, 1996), reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.
 See Rule G-37 Question and Answer No. III.7 (September 22, 2005) (“Q&A-III.7”), reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.
 See Q&A-III.7.
 See Rule G-37 Question and Answer No. III.8 (September 22, 2005), reprinted in MSRB Rule Book.