It is rare that I am able to find agreement with the publicly stated positions of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA). Equally rare – members of Congress who are traditionally strong advocates for “smart” regulatory reform of capital formation by SME’s to find themselves on the same page as NASAA. However, there appears to be a growing, even overwhelming, consensus that the SEC’s proposed rules to modify current federal restrictions on the intrastate sale of securities – are on the one hand a step in the right direction. But on the other hand, the SEC’s rule, as proposed, does not go far enough, and places unnecessary restrictions on the ability of states to decide what is in the best interests of their constituents – free of interference from the SEC.
By way of background, on October 30, 2015, the same day that the Commission announced final investment crowdfunding rules in furtherance of Title III of the JOBS Act of 2012 to implement investment crowdfunding on a national level – it also issued for comment a proposed rule, primarily intended to facilitate investment crowdfunding at the state level – Rule 147A. Significantly, the proposed rule would allow companies to advertise their offering on the Internet, something which the SEC Staff has stated is prohibited under current Rule 147 – and much to the consternation of state regulators and securities lawyers alike. In doing so, the SEC proposed to limit the amount that a state could authorize under its laws to $5 million. And it also proposed to eliminate the existing rule, Rule 147, in its entirety.
On October 7, 2016, a bi-partisan group of 15 members of Congress, many members of the House Financial Services Committee, signed a letter addressed to the SEC, encouraging the Commission to finalize its rulemaking, but with some important modifications. In particular, as proposed by the Commission, the existing “safe harbor” rule, Rule 147, which would allow states to regulate offerings occurring entirely within their state, would be scrapped in its entirety, and replaced by a new rule, Rule 147A, under the Commission’s general rulemaking powers. This approach, if adopted in the final rules, has at least two untoward effects, as regards the ability of states to fashion their own rules for intrastate offering, including intrastate investment crowdfunding.
First, of the 35 or so states which have enacted their own investment crowdfunding statutes, adoption of the Rule, as proposed, would in effect, terminate these exemptions in many of the states which enacted their exemptions based entirely upon the current rule – proposed to be eliminated – bringing intrastate crowdfunding to a halt. Comment letters to date have almost universally requested the SEC to clarify and expand the existing Rule 147, but to retain the existing rule. Though a technicality of sorts, failure to fix this glitch would require the large majority of states authorizing intrastate investment crowdfunding to go back to their state legislatures to incorporate any new rule which replaces the current Rule 147. And until then, intrastate crowdfunding would be shut down.
Second, though the SEC’s proposed rule makes necessary improvements, it comes with some conditions which many find unpalatable – and unnecessary. In particular, the SEC rule, as proposed, would limit the ceiling under this proposed exemption to $5 million. Opposition to this condition has been strong, simply because this is a matter which ought to be determined by each state – on a state by state basis.
The latest missive by 15 members of the House Financial Services Committee includes Congressman and Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry, a leading proponent of the JOBS Act of 2012 and subsequent legislation, and Congressman John Carney, the original sponsor of a Bill which passed the House this year which if enacted would create a new, independent office at the SEC – Office of Small Business Advocate – and would report to the full Commission and to Congress. Undoubtedly, their letter will signal to the SEC the need to approval final rules as expeditiously as possible nearly a year after originally proposed. So look for good things to come from the Commission in this area in the coming months.