WASHINGTON - A task force of the National Association of State Treasurers yesterday called for the creation of the first data bank devoted exclusively to providing investors with information on the disciplinary actions taken against most major municipal market participants.
The treasurers' group was scheduled to vote on the proposal late yesterday at its annual conference in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The proposal would set up a national clearinghouse that would not only provide information on actions against bond dealers, but for the first time would also include information on bond lawyers, financial advisers, and other nonbroker-dealers.
The National Association of Securities Dealers currently supplies investors with data on past and pending disciplinary actions against most broker-dealers operating in the United States. But the system does not provide information on other major participants.
The NASD system also does not provide clips from newspapers around the country about possible bond market abuses and pending investigations, which the NAST's staff members contend their system would supply if approved.
Action by the treasurers on the plan was due yesterday, one day before the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board was scheduled to unveil a proposed new rule it is believed to have adopted last week that is designed to curb abuses in connection with political contributions.
The treasurers sent the MSRB a letter last week urging it to delay adopting any new rules on political contributions until the board has fully analyzed the complex issues involved.
"NAST believes in self-policing to protect the integrity of the public capital marketplace," the ad hoc panel's proposed resolution says.
"NAST will establish a clearinghouse for the exchange and dissemination of information regarding abuses of the trust placed in both public and private participants in the municipal marketplace."
Treasurers also were expected to vote on a task force proposal to develop a "strong code of ethics for treasurers, both elected and appointed," who have any role in the issuance of public debt.
The panel noted that "the political process is only one factor in maintaining integrity of the markets. The private sector must take responsibility for its possible conflicts of interest among financial advisers and underwriters, the selection process of underwriting teams, and the way fees are allocated in underwriting teams."
Said Claudette Henry, treasurer of Oklahoma, one of the authors of the proposal, "We all need to be made aware when there are activities going on in one state that may hurt a treasurer in another state. This clearinghouse would improve all of our access to information."
Henry said recent stories circulating about financial practices in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Louisiana have caused the treasurers to seek better information and demand better disclosure from their financial services firms.
"This clearinghouse would serve as a data base for us, " she said. "We want, as an organization, to do the best we can to uphold the public confidence in the job we were elected to do. "
Another of the members of the ad hoc committee responsible for writing the proposal was Mary Landrieu, treasurer of Louisiana and another task force member.
"Political contributions are just one part of the goal of the treasurers," Landrieu said. "We really want to be leading the way in improving all forms of disclosure and remove the loopholes that are presently part of the campaign contribution game."
Landrieu said questions about limits of personal and political party donations, spouses' donations, and even children's donations all need to be addressed.
As part of the treasurers' proposal, Landrieu said a task force should be established that will allow all elected officials to work together.
She did not say, though, that banning all political contributions is the answer. "Those that propose that we completely remove campaign contributions are missing the point," Landrieu said. "Why should this industry be singled out? The feeling here is that for the most part, treasurers'offices have done a pretty reputable job. "
Landrieu added that campaign and ethical reforms can only be effective if they spread to all levels of government.
Henry said, "We all need to be protected from the unsavory acts of a few bad apples. Better access and improved disclosure is the best way."