Municipal advisers, those muniland professionals who are hired by public officials to evaluate their needs for financing and guide them through the underwriting process, don’t receive enough attention. Generally, they are paid by a government entity but also receive fees from the banks who underwrite the deals. Dodd-Frank set out to restrain potential conflicts in this space by requiring municipal advisers to register as such and imposing a fiduciary duty on their activities.
Now, however, some members of the House of Representatives are trying to roll back the portion of Dodd-Frank that would impose this fiduciary duty. A first-term congressman from Illinois, Robert J. Dold, whose prior professional experience was operating a pest-control business, has proposed legislation to strip the fiduciary duty requirement from Dodd-Frank. His bill currently has 35 co-sponsors.
Typically, municipal officials have little to no experience in financial markets. A financial adviser is on hand to untangle the complexities of different financing structures, guaranteed investment contracts (GICs) and derivatives. For public entities to get a fair deal, it’s critical that they get conflict-free advice from their financial advisers. The big Wall Street banks have for years sold highly complex and expensive products to poorly informed governments. See, for instance, these episodes from 2008: