Wall Street 2016: Firms Managing Pension Money Spend Millions To Support Governors, Despite Pay-To-Play Rule

At the close of an election cycle that has seen more than $1 billion spent on state and local races, one of the government’s top regulators delivered a stark warning: Law enforcement is stepping up efforts to protect public pension investments from being influenced by campaign cash, he said. With millions of teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public workers relying on those pensions for their retirement, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Andrew Ceresney said the threat of corruption must be taken seriously.

“If political contributions or improper payments to government officials play a role in the selection of investment professionals, the fairness of the process by which public contracts are awarded is undermined,” Ceresney told a gathering of current and former regulators in mid-October. “These practices, known as ‘pay-to-play,’ also distort the process by which professionals are selected and may result in pension funds receiving inferior services and paying higher fees, thereby harming retirees and the taxpaying residents of the states.”

Ceresney, who is head of the SEC’s division of enforcement, said his team is now working with other federal law enforcement agencies to do “all we can to shine light in this opaque area.” His warning spotlighted the fact that — six years after the SEC enacted its pay-to-play rule — financial executives have found ways around the strictures as they seek lucrative deals to manage portions of the nation’s $3 trillion public pension system.



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