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Understanding and Complying with SEC Rule 206(4)-5: Political Contributions


Given that it is a Presidential Election year, it is crucial for firms to review their policies and ensure a thorough understanding of their employees and staff contributions. The heightened political activity during such periods underscores the importance of vigilant monitoring to prevent inadvertent violations of SEC Rule 206(4)-5. Firms should proactively assess their compliance measures, conduct comprehensive reviews of political contributions, and reinforce training efforts to mitigate potential risks associated with political engagement. By staying proactive and diligent, firms can uphold regulatory compliance and maintain the trust and confidence of their clients and stakeholders during this politically charged time.


As Registered Investment Adviser firms with a client base that includes government entities, compliance with SEC Rule 206(4)-5 becomes essential. This rule, commonly known as the Political Contributions Rule, sets forth guidelines to prevent "pay-to-play" practices in the investment advisory industry. In this article, we delve into the key components of Rule 206(4)-5, explore compliance requirements, and outline how firms can adapt their policies based on their interactions with government entities.

If the firm does not have government entities as clients or prospective clients, it is still critical to review the policy and understand the rule. Inadvertently misunderstanding the requirements could lead to non-compliance with SEC Rule 206(4)-5. Therefore, even in the absence of direct engagement with government entities, maintaining a clear understanding of the rule and implementing robust compliance measures is essential to avoid any unintentional violations.


SEC Rule 206(4)-5 regulates the political activities of investment advisers who manage assets for state and local governments, including public pension plans. The rule aims to maintain transparency and integrity in the selection process of investment advisers by government entities, prohibiting activities that could unduly influence such decisions.

Key Components of the Rule:


  1. Scope and Prohibited Activities: The rule prohibits covered investment advisers from making direct or indirect contributions to certain government officials or candidates who can influence the selection of investment advisers. It applies to firms providing advisory services to government entities, including public pension plans.

  2. Two-Year Timeout: After making a political contribution to an official of a government entity, investment advisers face a two-year "timeout" period during which they are restricted from providing advisory services for compensation to that entity.

  3. Recordkeeping Requirements: Covered investment advisers must maintain records of their political contributions and other relevant information to demonstrate compliance with the rule.

  4. Compliance Obligations: Investment advisers subject to Rule 206(4)-5 must establish and maintain policies and procedures designed to prevent violations of the rule.


Tailoring Policies for Compliance: RIAs engaging with government entities must ensure their policies reflect the requirements of Rule 206(4)-5. These policies should:

  • Clearly outline the prohibition against political contributions that could influence the selection process of government entities.

  • Establish procedures for monitoring and documenting political contributions made by the firm and its employees.

  • Implement controls to prevent inadvertent violations of the rule, including training programs for staff members.

For firms that do not market to or have government entities as clients, policies related to political contributions may not be as extensive. However, it is still essential to:

  • Maintain transparency in political activities and contributions.

  • Ensure compliance with applicable state and federal regulations regarding campaign finance.


Sample Policy Outline for Firms without Government Entity Clients:

  1. Transparency and Compliance: while the firm does not currently provide advisory services to government entities, it shall maintain transparency in all political activities and contributions made by the firm and its employees. Employees should be prepared to provide information on their political contributions for the previous two years if the firm engages with government entities as clients or prospects. This ensures compliance with SEC Rule 206(4)-5 and facilitates transparency in the event of any interactions with government entities in the future.

  2. Compliance with Applicable Regulations: The firm shall ensure compliance with all applicable state and federal regulations regarding campaign finance. This includes maintaining awareness of and adherence to relevant laws and regulations, even in the absence of direct engagement with government entities. Additionally, the firm shall prohibit employees from providing political contributions with the intent of gaining an advantage for the firm or for unethical reasons or to avoid the appearance of such actions.


Annual Testing Procedures for Compliance:

  1. Review of Political Contributions Policy: The firm shall annually review its policies and the client bases to ensure it is in compliance with the political contribution rule.

  2. Employee Attestations: All employees shall be required to annually sign the firm's Written Policy and Procedures/Compliance Manual, thereby attesting to their understanding and compliance with all policies contained therein, including the Political Contribution policy. In the event that the firm engages with government entities as clients, employees must be prepared to provide their political contributions for the previous two years.

 

Sample Policy Outline for Firms with Government Entity Clients:

  1. Transparency and Compliance: Given the firm's engagement with government entities as clients, transparency and compliance with regulatory requirements regarding political contributions are paramount. The firm shall maintain meticulous records of all political activities and contributions made by the firm and its employees. Employees shall be required to provide timely documentation of any political contributions to the firm's compliance team, in accordance with regulatory requirements and the firm's internal policies. This ensures compliance with SEC Rule 206(4)-5 and facilitates transparency in all interactions with government entities.

  2. Compliance with Applicable Regulations: The firm shall ensure strict adherence to all applicable state and federal regulations regarding campaign finance, with a particular focus on regulations governing interactions with government entities. Additionally, the firm shall prohibit employees from providing political contributions with the intent of gaining an advantage for the firm or for unethical reasons, ensuring the integrity of all dealings with government clients.

Annual Testing Procedures for Compliance:

  1. Review of Political Contributions Policy: Annually, the firm shall conduct a comprehensive review of its political contributions policy and client roster to ensure adherence to regulatory requirements. This review will include cross-referencing employees' reported political contributions with specific websites and databases to verify accuracy and completeness.

  2. Employee Attestations and Training: All employees shall be required to annually sign the firm's Written Policy and Procedures/Compliance Manual, thereby attesting to their understanding and compliance with all policies contained therein, including the Political Contribution policy. Additionally, the firm shall provide regular training sessions for employees on the intricacies of the firm's political contributions policy and the importance of compliance. Any violations of the policy may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination. It is imperative that employees understand the gravity of their actions and the potential consequences of non-compliance when dealing with government clients. Failure to provide timely documentation of political contributions may result in firm violations, with penalties up to and including termination.


Testing options abound, with several websites available for entering names to uncover potential contributions; OpenSecrets is one such resource. Ideally, cross-referencing employee political contributions against databases like OpenSecrets ensures thorough compliance. Additionally, regulatory technology platforms used for documenting contributions may offer verification capabilities, further bolstering compliance efforts.

While sample policy outlines provide a foundational framework for compliance with SEC Rule 206(4)-5, it is imperative for each firm to customize and expand upon these guidelines to suit its unique circumstances and client base. Firms should consider factors such as the nature of their interactions with government entities, the size and structure of their organization, and any specific regulatory requirements applicable to their jurisdiction. By incorporating more specific details and customization into their political contribution policy and procedure, firms can ensure a comprehensive approach to compliance that effectively addresses their individual needs and mitigates potential risks.

Enforcement actions against multiple investment advisory firms for violations of the SEC's pay-to-play rule found that these firms violated the rule by accepting investment advisory fees from government entities within two years of campaign contributions made by their associates to elected officials or candidates. Civil money penalties of $45,000, $95,000, $95,000, and $70,000 occurred for each of the four firms.


Compliance with SEC Rule 206(4)-5 is crucial for firms engaging with government entities. By understanding the rule's requirements, tailoring policies accordingly, and implementing effective monitoring mechanisms, firms can navigate the regulatory landscape while maintaining integrity and transparency in their operations.


All information provided is for educational purposes and shall not be construed as specific advice.  The information does not reflect the view of any regulatory body, State or Federal Agency or Association.  All efforts have been made to report true and accurate information. However, the information could become materially inaccurate without warning. Not all information from third-party sources can be thoroughly vetted.  Coulter Strategic Services and its staff do NOT provide legal opinions or legal recommendations. Nothing in this material shall be considered as legal advice or opinion.  


If you would like specific compliance education, training, and services to help with your compliance program, annual review or projects, please contact Coulter Strategic Services. 


Check out Coulter Strategic Services' growing collection of training resources. Visit today and stay tuned for new training resources.

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