Is the SEC Going to Reform Advertising Rules?

Advertising and corporate communications is a rough area for compliance when used in capital formation. The rules are restrictive, not always intuitive, often vague, and in direct opposition to the revenue-hungry side of the company.

Last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform heard testimony on “how securities regulations have harmed public and private capital formation in the United States.”

“Economists now estimate that the market for underwritten initial public offerings in the U.S. have plummeted from an annual average of 530 during the 1990s to about 126 since 2001. Meanwhile, the number of companies listed on the major American exchanges peaked in 1997 at more than 7,000. Today, there are approximately 4,000. Furthermore, private capital formation in the U.S. is increasingly difficult, as demonstrated by Facebook’s recent decision to issue its high-profile private offering to foreign investors but not Americans.”

Since I’m in the private equity sector, I care more about the limitations placed on private capital formation. SEC Chairman re-stated the justification for the ban on general advertising under Regulation D.

“The ban was designed to ensure that those who would benefit from the safeguards of registration are not solicited in connection with a private offering.”

“I recognize that some continue to identify the general solicitation ban as a significant impediment to capital raising for small businesses. I also understand that some believe that the ban may be unnecessary because those who do not purchase the offered security would not be harmed by the solicitation that occurs. At the same time, the general solicitation ban is supported by others on the grounds that it helps prevent securities fraud by making it more difficult for fraudsters to attract investors or unscrupulous issuers to condition the market. We need to balance these considerations as we move forward in analyzing this issue.”

Barry Silbert, CEO of Second Market phrased it nicely:

It should not matter that non-accredited individuals know that unregistered securities are available for sale. No one prohibits car manufacturers from advertising, even though children under the legal driving age are viewing the advertisements. The general solicitations prohibition unnecessarily limits the pool of potential investors, thereby restricting companies’ ability to raise capital to fuel growth.

Chairman Shapiro said the SEC staff is looking at the offering rules and whether the general solicitation ban should be revisited. Given all of the rule-making from Dodd-Frank, it’s hard to imagine that the SEC will find the bandwidth to revisit the rule in the near future.


Image is Reaching for Blue Skies by Kelvin Tan
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