November 3, 2020

New Report Highlights Potential 2021 Pay-to-Play Enforcement Risks

Last month, Compliance Week highlighted some of the compliance considerations for investment advisors (and other regulated firms) around the 2020 elections in a piece headlined “SEC ‘pay-to-play’ enforcement surge projected in 2021”. The article notes that tomorrow’s elections have spurred a massive wave of contributions - and are likely to also trigger a new wave of SEC enforcement.

The article highlights the steep penalties under Rule 206(4)-5 of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, specifically pointing to penalties incurred in 2018 by EnCap Investments ($500,000), Sofinnova Ventures ($120,000), Ancora Advisors ($100,000), and Oaktree Capital Management ($100,000). On top of the fines, the hardest hitting aspect of pay-to-play enforcement is the two-year time out where firms must stop accepting management fees for their public investment funds for two years, and return any funds previously collected.

The article highlights three approaches investment firms can utilize:

“One, firms can prohibit all political donations by the firm and any covered employees.

Two, firms can require all political donations made by the firm or covered employees be approved by someone in management. (…) If the firm allows employees to make political contributions, compliance departments should fully understand the risks being incurred.

Three, some firms take a “trust but verify” approach by allowing the firm and its covered employees to make political donations, require those donations be disclosed, but also monitor their covered employees’ political contributions and hoist the red flag when necessary.”

At illumis, we provide the leading monitoring solution to help reduce risk and increase transparency around pay-to-play rules. Our platform continues to set the standard, with cutting-edge technology to help ensure comprehensive coverage.

Interested in a demo of the illumis Compliance platform? Click here or email

In November of 2021, ComplySci announced the acquisition of illumis, a premier data aggregator and technology provider whose solutions are used by financial services firms to identify and mitigate risk from employee political contributions. While the initial acquisition saw the firms operating as two independent organizations, we are thrilled to announce the merging of the illumis and ComplySci brands. With this initiative, we aim to arm our clients with a more comprehensive solution to mitigating compliance risk, which includes the increased risk associated with employee political contributions.

Political contributions made by firm employees pose a significant threat to investment advisory firms. And even firms with the best compliance teams can be at risk of violating pay-to-play regulations, like the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) rule 206(4)-5, given the complexity of the rules and the myriad of regulations to which firms must comply.

Because of this, investment firms must arm themselves with the access to and support of real-time data, which can help identify potential violations and anomalies in the political donation process.

By leveraging real-time data, investment firms can quickly detect suspicious or unauthorized activities and take prompt action to prevent pay-to-play violations.

SEC Rule 206(4)-5 is arguably the most well known regulation regarding political contributions compliance or pay-to-play compliance. However, it certainly isn’t the only regulation to which firms must comply.

In fact, beyond federal regulations, firms which take part in government contracted work must contend with numerous and varied state and local regulations as well. Such regulations present unique challenges because of the various requirements within each, which should they be neglected, can cause significant financial and reputational damage.