January 17, 2017 / 6:36 PM / 3 years ago

Pershing Square, nine others hit with SEC 'pay to play' violations

Activist investor Bill Ackman, chief executive of Pershing Square walks on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Billionaire investor Bill Ackman’s hedge fund paid $75,000 to settle civil “pay-to-play” charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission after running afoul of campaign contribution and money management rules.

Pershing Square Capital Management, which invests roughly $11.6 billion for a number of state pension funds and wealthy investors, was one of 10 firms that settled charges with the SEC after having allegedly received compensation from pension funds within two years of making political contributions, U.S. regulators said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission said Pershing and the other nine firms agreed to settle the charges by paying penalties ranging from $35,000 to $100,000. All the firms settled without admitting or denying the charges.

Pershing Square last year said a former partner at the firm made a $500 campaign contribution to a friend’s sister’s campaign to run for governor in Massachusetts, where Pershing Square manages money for the state’s pension fund. The candidate did not gain enough votes to make it onto the primary ballot.

The hedge fund, which called the contribution an “unintended violation, asked the regulator to exempt it from having to return millions of dollars in fees it earned for managing the money for Massachusetts.

Regulators have recently paid significantly more attention to deals that investment firms have made with pension funds in order to try and steer business their way. The governor in Massachusetts appoints members to the pension fund’s board which votes on which investment managers to employ.

Ackman’s Pershing Square, one of the world’s most closely watched hedge funds, ended 2016 and 2015 with heavy losses. It began 2017 on a positive note, with the Pershing Square Holdings fund up roughly 2 percent so far this month, starting the new year with gains for the first time in two years.

Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alan Crosby and David Gregorio

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