The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced a new cooperation initiative out of its Enforcement Division to encourage issuers and underwriters of municipal securities to self-report certain violations of the federal securities laws rather than wait for their violations to be detected.
“The Enforcement Division is committed to using innovative methods to uncover securities law violations and improve transparency in the municipal markets,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC Enforcement Division. “We encourage eligible parties to take advantage of the favorable terms we are offering under this initiative. Those who do not self-report and instead decide to take their chances can expect to face increased sanctions for violations.”
Under the Municipalities Continuing Disclosure Cooperation (MCDC) Initiative, the Enforcement Division will recommend standardized, favorable settlement terms to municipal issuers and underwriters who self-report that they have made inaccurate statements in bond offerings about their prior compliance with continuing disclosure obligations specified in Rule 15c2-12 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
Rule 15c2-12 generally prohibits underwriters from purchasing or selling municipal securities unless the issuer has committed to providing continuing disclosure regarding the security and issuer, including information about its financial condition and operating data. The rule also generally requires that municipal bond offering documents contain a description of any instances in the previous five years in which the issuer failed to comply, in all material respects, with any previous commitment to provide such continuing disclosure.
“Continuing disclosures are a critical source of information for investors in municipal securities, and offering documents should accurately disclose issuers’ prior compliance with their disclosure obligations,” said LeeAnn Ghazil Gaunt, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit. “This initiative is designed to promote improved compliance by encouraging responsible behavior by market participants who have failed to meet their obligations in the past.”
The SEC can file enforcement actions against municipal issuers for making misrepresentations in bond offerings about their prior compliance with continuing disclosure obligations. Underwriters for such bond offerings also can be liable for failing to exercise adequate due diligence regarding the truthfulness of representations in the issuer’s official statement. For instance, the SEC recently charged a school district in Indiana and its underwriter with falsely stating to investors that it had been properly providing annual financial information and notices required as part of its prior bond offerings.
Eligibility for the MCDC Initiative is explained in a detailed announcement by the Enforcement Division. Issuers and underwriters must self-report by completing a questionnaire and submitting it via e-mail or by fax or mail no later than Sept. 10, 2014.
The MCDC Initiative is being led by Peter K.M. Chan, an assistant director in the Municipal Securities and Public Pensions Unit and the Chicago Regional Office.