The SEC has fined an advisory firm $300,000 for political contributions to public officials who had influence over pension funds that do business with the firm.
It was the Securities and Exchange Commission’s first action under the four-year-old “pay-to-play” ban for investment advisors.
The fine was part of a settlement in which TL Ventures in Philadelphia neither denied nor admitted wrongdoing in the matter.
An unnamed associate of TL Ventures donated $2,000 in 2011 to the campaign of Pennsylvania Gov.Tom Corbett, who appoints six of the 11-member Pennsylvania State Retirement System board, according to the SEC.
In the same year, the worker gave $2,500 to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who selects three of the nine people on the Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement.
Under the rules, an advisor is barred for two years from getting money from the government unit after a political contribution is made, but TL Ventures was continuing to receive fees from covered investment pools invested in by the pension plans during the period, according to the SEC.
Since 1999, the state pension board has invested $75 million through the company while the city unit has entrusted it with $10 million since 2000, according to the SEC.
The rule does not require the SEC to show there was actual intent to influence an elected official or candidate with the political donations.
“As we have done with broker-dealers, we will hold investment advisors strictly liable for pay-to-play violations,” SEC Enforcement Director Andrew Ceresney said in the announcement of the settlement.
The settlement also charged TL Ventures and an affiliated advisor, Penn Mezzanine Partners Management, with improperly acting as unregistered investment advisors. The SEC said TL Ventures should have registered because the combination expanded its advisory role beyond venture capital funds.