Each month the Gillespie Law Group compiles the most recent legislative and regulatory developments that could affect startups, tech companies, and website owners.

“Crowdfunding” Update: As we reported last month, the House approved the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act, H.R. 2930, known to many as the “crowdfunding” bill. This bill would allow businesses to raise money selling unregistered securities using “crowdfunding,” which is the raising of money through mass aggregation of small investments. Although the bill is strongly supported by the Obama administration, the Senate corollary bill, the Democratizing Access to Capital Act, S.1791.IS, is having a hard time getting out of the Senate because of efforts by the North American Securities Administers Association (NASAA) who has been lobbying heavily against the bill because it would infringe on state regulatory power. Additionally, the bill has been slowed because of two Senate hearings that highlighted the potential for increased fraud under the bill.

The House version of the bill would allow issuers, in any 12-month period, to raise up to $2 million if the issuer provides potential investors with audited financial statements, which is not always cheap. Crowdfunders then must comply with a variety of protective measures including warning investors that certain risks are associated with the issuer and that resales are restricted, as well as by providing the SEC with certain other information. Importantly for crowdfunders wanting to avoid SEC registration, investors who purchase securities under the crowdfunding exemption would not count toward the 500-shareholder threshold for SEC registration in Section 12(g) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Senate version of the bill does have some significant differences from the House version:

  • Securities could only be issued through a “crowdfunding intermediary,” which would exclude raising funds through websites like Facebook and Twitter
  • Each investor would be limited to investing only $1,000 in any 12-month period
  • While the House bill preempted State registration law, the Senate bill would allow for some State registration requirements

A second Senate bill over this issue is also in the Senate, S.R. 1970, painfully entitled “CROWDFUND,” for “the Capital Raising Online While Deterring Fraud and Unethical Non-Disclosure Act.” The CROWDFUND bill even more narrowly defines what intermediaries investments can be sold through as “funding portals” and investors are limited to the greater of $500 or a 1-2 percentage of his or her annual income, per company to invest in.

General Solicitation.  In addition to the the Access to Capital for Job Creators Act, H.R. 2940, the House bill we reported on last month, the SEC’s Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies had made formal recommendations that the SEC should permit general solicitation and advertising in private offerings under Rule 506 where the securities are only sold to accredited investors.

The Access to Capital of Job Creators Act, which passed in the House, would amend Section 4(2) of the Securities Act of 1933 by exempting from SEC securities regulation “transactions by an issuer not involving any public offering, whether or not such transactions involve general solicitation or general advertising.” Importantly, both this bill and the SEC Advisory Committee’s recommendations would generally go against the long-held goal of the securities exemption rules of prohibiting general solicitation of investors by general and open advertising. Instead, both would actually permit general solicitation or advertising provided that all purchasers of the securities are accredited investors and that the issuer has taken reasonable steps to verify that purchasers of the securities are accredited investors.

Internet Law. SOPA and its detractors became major news in the past month with websites such as Google and Reddit actually removing their services from the web for 24 hours on January 18. Recently SOPA and PIPA, a similar bill in the Senate, have been opposed by President Obama and have seemingly been shelved for the time being, however it is likely that new legislation or changes to these proposed bill are coming. For an in-depth look at SOPA, please read our analysis of the bill: SOPA – Cutting Through the Hype.