Cuomo Signs Reform To Retirement Fund

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation prohibiting the use of placement agents or intermediaries by the New York State Common Retirement Fund.

The legislation (A.3137/S.4761) codifies law reforms following an investigation by then-Attorney General Cuomo into pay-to-play practices at the fund under former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

“Placement agents raise the risk of pay-to-play practices which erode trust in the pension system and place the hard-earned dollars of its members at risk,” Cuomo said. “As Attorney General, I investigated and uncovered these abuses in the system under former Comptroller Hevesi in a wide-ranging investigation and instituted nation-leading reforms to ban placement agents and campaign contributions that were largely adopted by the SEC. As Governor, I am proud to codify the placement agent ban into law through this commonsense legislation that guards against pay-to-play schemes and protects the investments of hardworking New Yorkers.”

This legislation is a program bill introduced by Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli in 2011. In April 2009, DiNapoli banned placement agents from working with the fund.

“When I became state comptroller, I undertook a comprehensive review of the state pension fund’s operations to restore its reputation after the previous administration’s wrongdoing. It was clear to me that placement agents were corrosive and unnecessary,” DiNapoli said. “In April 2009, I banned placement agents, paid intermediaries and registered lobbyists from involvement with investment decisions. New York was one of the first states in the nation to completely ban them. For years, I have pushed to have this prohibition against pay-to-play codified into law. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for his support and leadership and for permanently taking placement agents out of the equation.”

Specifically, the law:

¯ prohibits the fund from engaging, hiring, investing with or committing to an investment manager that is using the services of a placement agent or intermediary to assist such investment manager in obtaining investments by the Common Retirement Fund;

¯ prohibits the fund from engaging, hiring, investing with or committing to an investment manager without obtaining from such investment manager a certification in the form and manner prescribed by the Common Retirement Fund stating that such investment manager has not used the services of a placement agent or other intermediary to assist such investment manager in obtaining investments by the Common Retirement Fund.

In 2007, Cuomo, then the attorney general, investigated abuses at the state pension system that resulted in convictions of Hevesi and seven other prominent figures in an elaborate scheme that traded influence and investment in the state pension system for campaign contributions and payments to intermediaries. After becoming state comptroller in 2007, DiNapoli did a top-to-bottom review of the operations of the fund and instituted changes that were lauded by independent auditors as industry-leading efforts that transformed how the fund did business.

The use of placement agents figured prominently in Hevesi’s scheme. More than $170 million in taxpayer money was recovered as a result of the probe.

As part of the investigation, Cuomo created a nationwide Code of Conduct in settlements with investment managers and others, containing a placement agent ban. The other component of the Code of Conduct banned obtaining a pension fund investment within two years of a campaign contribution. It was incorporated into law nationwide by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2010, protecting trillions in pension fund investments across the country.

The Department of Financial Services and its predecessor agency banned the use of placement agents via a regulation since 2009. The SEC also banned unregistered brokers from public pension fund investments. The Code of Conduct and today’s bill go farther by permanently banning all third party brokers, registered or unregistered.