What the Outcome of BlackRock’s Petition Could Portend for the SEC’s Stance on Pay to Play

BlackRock has petitioned the SEC for an exemption from the prohibition against its collection of fees from Ohio-based “government entity” clients, following a violation of the so-called “pay to play” rule stemming from a $2,700 contribution to the presidential campaign of Ohio Governor John Kasich by one of its top executives. Absent exemptive relief, BlackRock will be denied the ability to collect fees, totaling an estimated $37 million, from any Ohio government entity. The petition comes at a critical juncture, as top SEC roles have finally been filled, and many observers are closely following actions taken by the SEC to assess whether the new administration’s pro-business stance is rhetoric or a reality. BlackRock’s prospects for winning an exemption may be brighter than they would have been before President Trump took office, but many forces are likely to shape the outcome, including SEC actions as recent as January 2017 that sent a loud and clear message about the seriousness of pay to play violations. See “Campaign Contributions As Small As $500 Could Draw SEC Enforcement Action for Pay to Play Violations” (Jan. 26, 2017). To help readers understand these issues, this article analyzes BlackRock’s petition, along with insight from legal practitioners with experience with the pay to play rule and SEC enforcement matters. For more on BlackRock, see “Lessons on Separation Agreements That Fund Managers Can Glean From Recent SEC Action” (Feb. 2, 2017).

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