Tag Archives: Title III

Improving Legal Documents in Crowdfunding: Get Rid of the State Legends!

I see lots of offering documents like this, with pages of state “legends.” The good news is that in Crowdfunding offerings – Title II (Rule 506(c)), Title III (Regulation Crowdfunding), and Title IV (Regulation A) – you can and should get rid of them.

The legal case is pretty simple:

  • Before 1996, states were allowed to regulate private offerings. Every state allowed exemptions, but these exemptions often required legends, differing from state to state.
  • The National Securities Market Improvement Act of 1996 added section 18 to the Securities Act of 1933. Section 18 provides that no state shall “impose any conditions upon the use of. . . .any offering document that is prepared by or on behalf of the issuer. . . .” in connection with the sale of “covered securities.”
  • The securities sold under Title II, Title III, and Title IV are all “covered securities.”
  • Hence, section 18 prohibits states from imposing any conditions regarding the issuer’s offering documents, including a condition that requires the use of a state legend.

If the capitalized legends just take up space, why not include them anyway just to be safe? Take Pennsylvania’s legend as an example:

These securities have not been registered under the Pennsylvania Securities Act of 1972 in reliance upon an exemption therefrom. any sale made pursuant to such exemption is voidable by a Pennsylvania purchaser within two business days from the date of receipt by the issuer of his or her written binding contract of purchase or, in the case of a transaction in which there is not a written binding contract of purchase, within two business days after he or she makes the initial payment for the shares being offered.

If you include the Pennsylvania legend “just to be safe,” you’ve given Pennsylvania investors a right of rescission they wouldn’t have had otherwise!

Two qualifications.

First, the North American Securities Administrators Association –the trade group of state securities regulators – suggests including uniform legend on offering documents. I include this or something similar as a matter of course:

IN MAKING AN INVESTMENT DECISION INVESTORS MUST RELY ON THEIR OWN EXAMINATION OF THE COMPANY AND THE TERMS OF THE OFFERING, INCLUDING THE MERITS AND RISKS INVOLVED. THESE SECURITIES HAVE NOT BEEN RECOMMENDED BY ANY FEDERAL OR STATE SECURITIES COMMISSION OR REGULATORY AUTHORITY. FURTHERMORE, THE FOREGOING AUTHORITIES HAVE NOT CONFIRMED THE ACCURACY OR DETERMINED THE ADEQUACY OF THIS DOCUMENT. ANY REPRESENTATION TO THE CONTRARY IS A CRIMINAL OFFENSE. THESE SECURITIES ARE SUBJECT TO RESTRICTIONS ON TRANSFERABILITY AND RESALE AND MAY NOT BE TRANSFERRED OR RESOLD EXCEPT AS PERMITTED UNDER THE ACT, AND THE APPLICABLE STATE SECURITIES LAWS, PURSUANT TO REGISTRATION OR EXEMPTION THEREFROM. INVESTORS SHOULD BE AWARE THAT THEY WILL BE REQUIRED TO BEAR THE FINANCIAL RISKS OF THIS INVESTMENT FOR AN INDEFINITE PERIOD OF TIME.

Second, some states, including Florida, require a legend to appear on the face of the offering document to avoid broker-dealer registration. Because Section 18 of the Securities Act doesn’t prohibit states from regulating broker-dealers, some lawyers recommend including those legends, while others believe those requirements are an improper “back door” way for states to avoid the Federal rule. I come out in the latter camp, but opinions differ.

Questions? Let me know.

Two Related Party Rules In Title III Crowdfunding

Title III includes two definitions about related parties, similar but not identical.

The first definition dictates who is subject to the $1 million-per-year limit on raising money. There, the regulations provide that the limit applies not only to the issuer itself (the company raising money), but also to “all entities controlled by or under common control with the issuer and any predecessors of the issuer.” To determine who controls whom, the regulations borrow the definition from SEC Rule 405:

The term ‘control’ means the possession, direct or indirect, of the power to direct or cause the direction of the management and policies of the entity, whether through the ownership of voting securities, by contract or otherwise.

This means, for example, that if Company X is raising money using Title III, then Company X and all members of the same corporate family are subject to the same $1 million cap, even if other members of the corporate family are engaged in very different businesses.

(Don’t even think about having your husband or girlfriend or best friend from college own the other businesses get around the rule. It doesn’t work.)

This is a very broad rule and, like so much of Title III, very different than anything we’ve seen before in the U.S. securities laws. For example, while Issuer X may include only 35 investors in an offering under Rule 506(b), Issuer X is allowed to have multiple offerings – an apartment building in this offering, an oil and gas development in this offering, a social media app in a third offering – and include 35 non-accredited investors in each.

Similarly, in Title IV an issuer can raise up to $50 million for a mortgage REIT. Nothing stops a company under common control with the issuer from raising another $50 million for a REIT that buys office buildings.

Why the stricter rule for Title III? I would say that, consistent with the whole Title III paradigm, the goal was to reserve Title III for little guys, the neighborhood businesses, while keeping the professional financiers from Wall Street and Silicon Valley out. It’s part of the big compromise that allowed enactment of Title III in the first place.

The second definition around related parties in Title III dictates who on the portal side may own securities of the issuer. The rule is that:

  • The portal itself may own a financial interest in the issuer only if (1) the portal received the financial interest as compensation for the services provided to or for the benefit of the issuer, and (2) the financial interest consists of the same securities that are being offered to investors on the portal’s platform.
  • No director, officer, or partner of the portal, or any person occupying a similar status or performing a similar function, may own a financial interest in an issuer.

The term “financial interest in an issuer” means a direct or indirect ownership of, or economic interest in, any class of the issuer’s securities.

This rule means, for example, that:

  • A portal may not raise money for itself on its own platform.
  • Neither the portal nor any of its directors, officers, or partners may invest in an issuer before it raises money on the portal (they could invest afterward).
  • Purely contractual arrangements, not relating to the securities of the issuer, are okay.

The rule about financial interests doesn’t use the words “common control” but, because a portal is controlled by its directors, officers, and partners, the result is nearly the same. But not identical. In a typical Crowdfunding structure, for example, the Title III portal is owned in a separate company. Key contributors to other parts of the corporate family who are not directors, officers, or partners of the portal itself should be allowed to invest without violating the rule, even where all the companies are under common control.

Questions? Let me know.

Can A Crowdfunding Issuer Sell Its Own Securities?

Securities Cash  Register

Some states, including Texas, require all securities to be sold through licensed brokers. Do these state laws mean that Crowdfunding issuers can’t sell their own securities? Do they have to use a “clearing broker” instead?

For Title III the answer is easy. Securities under Title III may be offered and sold only through a licensed broker or a licensed funding portal. If you’re selling through a licensed broker then you’re complying with the state law, and section 15(i)(2)(A) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 prohibits states from regulating funding portals in their businesses as such.

For Title II (Rule 506(c)) and Title IV (Regulation A), the answer is less clear. The issue is especially acute under Title IV, just because of the number of investors.

Section 18(a)(1) of Securities Act

Added to the law in 1996, section 18(a)(1) of the Securities Act of 1933 provides that:

Except as otherwise provided in this section, no law, rule, regulation, or order, or other administrative action of any State or any political subdivision thereof requiring, or with respect to, registration or qualification of securities, or registration or qualification of securities transactions, shall directly or indirectly apply to a security that is a covered security.

Because the term “covered security” includes securities offered under Rule 506(c) and Regulation A (also Title III, for that matter), the law clearly prohibits states from requiring the registration of a Crowdfunding offering. But does it also prohibit states from regulating who sells the securities?

Here’s the statute again, with extra words removed:

No law requiring registration or qualification of securities transactions shall apply to a covered security.

A sale of a security is definitely a “securities transaction.” So here’s the question:  does a state law that requires the sale to be effected through a licensed broker amount to requiring “registration or qualification” of the sale? Many smart people conclude that it does, making any such law unenforceable. That’s why you can go online today and find issuers offering securities directly to investors, despite state laws saying otherwise.

But there’s plenty of room for doubt. When a state says that all securities must be sold through licensed brokers, maybe it’s not requiring “registration or qualification” of the transaction; maybe it’s not regulating the sale at all. Maybe, instead, the state is regulating the person making the sale. Because section 18(a)(1) of the Securities Act doesn’t prohibit states from regulating brokers, the way section 15(i)(2)(A) of the Exchange Act prohibits them from regulating funding portals, maybe these laws aren’t affected.

For good measure, I’ve read academic articles arguing that the 1996 law amending section 18(a)(1), and stripping states of their historic regulatory authority over most securities offerings, was an unconstitutional extension of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

What’s At Stake

If an issuer violates a state law by selling securities directly to investors, the issuer could be subject to state enforcement action, i.e., fines and penalties.

The greater risk, in my opinion, is the risk of claims from investors. If a widow in Texas loses money she might not accept her loss graciously. She (or her heirs, or the trustee in her Chapter 7 bankruptcy case) might look for a way to recoup her loss. And if she can show that the issuer violated Texas law, the court may find a right of rescission, i.e., the right to get her money back. The court might even extend that right against the principals of the issuer personally, especially if they were engaged in selling activities.

I imagine the widow on the stand, asking for recourse against the New York based issuer, backed by an amicus curiae brief filed by the Texas Board of Securities and the National Association of State Securities Administrators. Given the room for ambiguity in the statute, I’m not thrilled with my odds.

And even if you win, there’s the time and cost of defending yourself, and the sleeping-well-at-night factor, also.

What To Do

The simplest solution is to sell through a clearing broker licensed in every state.

Another solution is to sell through a clearing broker only in states that require it (I don’t have a list, but maybe a reader does and can share it).

If an issuer doesn’t want to spend the money on a clearing broker, it might decide not to sell securities in any state that requires use of a broker, although that includes some big states.

Or an issuer, guided by counsel, might reasonably decide to live with the uncertainty in the law and sell securities anyway. Just make sure your insurance would cover the widow’s claims.

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My thanks to Jillian Sidoti, Esq. and Anthony Zeoli, Esq., who provided valuable insight.

Questions? Let me know.

SEC Provides Guidance On Advertising By Title III Issuers

sec guidance

The SEC just provided guidance for Title III issuers in the form of Compliance and Disclosure Interpretations. You can read the CD&I’s themselves here.

Before Filing

Before filing Form C (the disclosure document used in Title III) and being listed on a Funding Portal, a Title III issuer may not take any action that would “condition the public mind or arouse public interest in the issuer or in its securities.” That means:

  • No Demo Days
  • No email blasts or social media posts about the offering
  • No meetings with possible investors

After Filing

Once a Title III issuer has filed Form C and been listed on a Funding Portal, any advertising that includes the “terms of the offering” is subject to the “tombstone” limits of Rule 204. The “terms of the offering” include the amount of securities offered, the nature of the securities, the price of the securities, and the closing date of the offering period.

Advertising that does not include the “terms of the offering” is not subject to Rule 204. Theoretically, for example, an issuer could attend a Demo Day after filing its Form C, as long as it didn’t mention (1) how much money it’s trying to raise, (2) what kind of securities it’s offering, (3) the price of the securities, or (4) the closing date of its offering.

Three caveats:

  • Have you ever been to a Demo Day? It’s hard to imagine someone wouldn’t ask “How much money are you trying to raise?” or that the company representative wouldn’t answer. Theoretically possible, yes, but in practice highly unlikely.
  • Even the statements “We’re selling stock” or “We’re issuing debt” are “terms of the offering” and therefore cross the line.
  • There’s an interesting difference between the regulations themselves and the CD&Is. The regulations say “terms of the offering” means the items mentioned. The CD&Is, on the other hand, say “terms of the offering” include the items mentioned. Thus, if you take the CD&Is literally, maybe “terms of the offering” also include other things, like the start date of the offering.

Video

After filing, a Title III issuer can use video to advertise the “terms of the offering,” as long as the video otherwise complies with Rule 204.

Media Advertisements

After filing, if a Title III issuer is “directly or indirectly involved in the preparation” of a media article that mentions the “terms of the offering,” then the issuer is responsible if the article violates Rule 204.

EXAMPLE:  You attend a Demo Day, and the organizer announces how much money you’re trying to raise. You violated Rule 204.

EXAMPLE:  A reporter from your local paper calls. Eager for the free press, you tell her you’re raising $200,000 for a new microbrewery in town, which she repeats in her article. You violated Rule 204.

EXAMPLE:  A reporter from your local paper calls. Eager for the free press, but very savvy legally, you tell her about your plans for the microbrewery but carefully avoid telling her how much money you’re raising or any other “terms of the offering.” She goes to the Funding Portal and finds out herself, and reports that you’re raising $200,000. You violated Rule 204.

To be safe, you just can’t be involved, directly or indirectly, with anyone from the press who doesn’t understand Title III and promise, cross her heart and hope to die, not to disclose any “terms of the offering.”

Advertisements on the Funding Portal

Advertising a Title III offering outside the Funding Portal is a minefield. But inside the Funding Portal is a completely different story. Inside the Funding Portal is where everything is supposed to happen in Title III. Focus your attention there, where the minefields are few and far between.

Questions? Let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

What “Solicit” Means Under Title III

Before the JOBS Act came along, listing a security on a public website would itself have been treated as an act of “solicitation.” That’s the odd thing: Title III portals aren’t allowed to “solicit,” yet in the traditional sense of the term that’s the most important thing Congress created them to do.

The fact is that Congress was ambivalent when it created Title III portals. They are allowed to list offerings of securities, but are not allowed to do other things often associated with the sale of securities, including holding investor funds or offering investment advice. They are regulated by the SEC and FINRA, but with a light touch compared with other regulated entities. They are privately-owned, but are required to provide educational materials to investors, police issuers, provide an online communication platform, and ensure that investors don’t exceed their investment limits – in short, they are required to assume a quasi-governmental role.

Title III portals are a new animal, part fish, part bird. Which makes it that much more difficult to decide what “solicit” means when they do it.

Based on the statute, the SEC regulations, the legislative background of the JOBS Act, and the history and overall context of the U.S. securities laws, I think a Title III portal engages in prohibited “solicitation” anytime it tries to steer an investor to a particular security. If it’s not trying to steer an investor to a particular security, then it’s probably okay.

I’ve included some practical guidelines in the chart below. Although there are plenty of gaps, I hope this helps.

Click the following for a print ready version of the complete chart: Rules for Title III Portals

Rules for Title III Portals

 

 

How To Operate A Title II Portal And A Title III Portal On The Same Platform

crainsMost Title II and Title IV portals will also want to operate Title III portals, and vice versa. Can they do it?

The Title III regulations issued by the SEC appear to contemplate that a Title III portal – a “funding portal” – will do more than operate a Title III portal. For example, 17 CFR §227.401 provides that “A funding portal. . . .is exempt from the broker registration requirements of section 15(a)(1) of the Exchange Act in connection with its activities as a funding portal.” If a Title III portal couldn’t do anything else, that extra language at the end wouldn’t be necessary.

The same is true for of the regulations issued by FINRA. FINRA prohibits Funding Portals from making false or exaggerated claims, implying that past performance will recur, claiming that FINRA itself has blessed an offering, or engaging in other misconduct, but a well-behaved Title II or Title IV portal would have no trouble meeting those standards.

What about the platform itself? The Title III regulations (17 CFR §227.300(c)(4)) define “platform” as:

A program or application accessible via the Internet or other similar electronic communication medium through which a registered broker or a registered funding portal acts as an intermediary in a transaction involving the offer or sale of securities in reliance on section 4(a)(6) of the Securities Act.

Nothing there would prohibit Title II, Title III, and title IV securities from appearing on the same website.

The fly in the ointment is 17 CFR §227.300(c)(2)(ii), which provides that a Title III portal may not:

  • Offer investment advice or recommendations; OR
  • Solicit purchases, sales or offers to buy the securities displayed on its platform.

What does that mean, in the context of a portal offering both Title II and Title III securities? What it should mean is that a Title III portal cannot offer investment advice or recommendations concerning Title III securities, and cannot solicit purchases, sales, or offers of Title III securities. The idea of Title III is to protect Title III investors. Why should the SEC care whether the portal is offering investment advice concerning Title II or Title IV securities?

But we can’t be 100% sure that’s what it means. If it means that a Title III portal can’t offer investment advice about any securities and can’t solicit offers to buy any securities, then we need to steer clear.

I’ve spoken informally with the SEC and they’re not sure how to interpret 17 CFR §227.300(c)(2)(ii). They suggested I submit a request for a no-action ruling and I guess I will, unless one of my Crowdfunding colleagues already has.

Pending that guidance, there are several ways to operate a Title II portal, a Title III portal, and a Title IV portal on the same platform:

  • Operate the portals through a single legal entity. Avoid giving investment advice to anybody or soliciting purchases, sales, or offers of any securities.
  • Operate the portals through one legal entity. If you want to offer investment advice and/or actively solicit, do it through or more additional legal entities. For now, limit the investment advice and active solicitation to Title II and Title IV securities.
  • Create a separate legal entity to hold the Title III license. Create an arm’s length license agreement between that entity and the entity that owns the platform (a simple downloadable form is here). List all the deals on the same platform, but make sure that when an investor clicks on a Title III deal the Title III portal handles the investment process.

Finally, FINRA is a wonderful organization, but I’m not necessarily eager to have FINRA looking at everything my clients do. All other things being equal, I might choose option #3 just to keep a degree of separation between the regulated entity and my non-regulated activities. But that’s not necessarily the end of it – FINRA will want to explore the relationship between the funding portal and its affiliates.

Questions? Let me know.

Intrastate Crowdfunding After Title III

CF WordclouldOn one hand, the SEC just proposed several changes to Rule 147 that will make intrastate Crowdfunding easier:

  • We used to worry, at least a little, about the language in Rule 147 saying that you couldn’t offer securities to anyone outside the state. How does this work when your offers are made with the Internet, we wondered? The SEC just proposed eliminating that requirement.
  • If you were doing an intrastate offering in Texas, Rule 147 used
    to require using a Texas entity – not Delaware, for example. No more.
  • If you’re doing an intrastate offering in Texas, you have to show you’re doing business in Texas. The new proposals would make that easier.
  • The new proposals would also simplify and rationalize the rules around (1) the “integration” of offerings (combining an intrastate offering with other offerings), (2) verifying that investors are residents of the state, and (3) re-sales of securities purchased in an intrastate offering.

All that is great, and should really help the intrastate Crowdfunding market (although I take to heart Anthony Zeoli’s excellent caveat here.)

On the other hand, the SEC also proposed a $5 million cap on intrastate offerings, which seems very important in light of Title III.

Title III Crowdfunding allows any issuer anywhere to raise up to $1 million from non-accredited investors who live anywhere in the world. With Title III Crowdfunding available, why would an issuer use intrastate Crowdfunding? There are only two possible reasons:

  • You’re allowed to raise more money in the intrastate offering
  • The process of the intrastate offering is faster/cheaper/easier

Once the hi-tech folks get their hands around Title III, I think we’re going to see the process becoming faster, cheaper, and easier than it looks now, making Title III comparable (maybe even superior) to intrastate Crowdfunding from that perspective.

Then it just comes down to how much you can raise. If I am a small issuer – raising less than $1 million, for example – why would I use the intrastate law of my state when I can use Title III instead and appeal to the whole universe of investors? Case in point:  New Jersey enacted an intrastate Crowdfunding law just this week – with a $1 million limit. Why would a New Jersey business use that law, with Title III on the books and the gold and silver of Manhattan right across the Hudson River?

And if I’m a software developer wondering what kind of platform to build, isn’t the scale tipped in favor of Title III?

The scales will tip further that way when Congress increases the limit of Title III from $1 million to something higher. Although the SEC can always raise the limit for intrastate Crowdfunding as well, the future probably belongs to Title III.

Questions? Let me know.

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