The House of Representatives recently voted to pass The Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act (H.R. 3606), a collection of several bills focused on barriers to capital formation. I’m focused on the bill because of mostly because of the Access to Capital for Job Creators section that would override the ban on general solicitation and advertising under Regulation D.
I welcome some sensible changes to Regulation D because I find the ban a bit vague as part of the fundraising process. Private fund managers could use guidance from the SEC on what is allowed and what is prohibited by the ban.
On the other hand, knowing the general ban exists makes it easy to dismiss scams and spam spinning tales of possible investment opportunities. That unsolicited message is either a straight-up scam or a naive entrepreneur who thinks they can operate without competent advice. Either way you can easily dismiss the opportunity.
Another provision of the JOBS Act that I found interesting is the Private Company Flexibility and Growth Act. The main purpose is to raise the thresholds under Section 12(g)(1)(A) of the Exchange Act. Currently under that provision, private companies with more than 500 shareholders and a big stream of revenue effectively have to become public companies. That shareholder limit forced Google into going public and most recently is forcing Facebook to go public.
The centerpiece of the JOBS Act is the new crowdfunding platform. Currently, platforms like Kickstarter are prohibited from offering equity. Project sponsors have to ask for donations, offer schwag, or pre-sell products. All of which seems to work very well.
Commentators like William Carleton think the concept of crowdfunding will be great for entrepreneurs. The Wall Street Journal has a point-counterpoint this morning on crowdfunding:
Like most stuff coming out of Congress, even if the concept is good I think Congress is likely to screw up the drafting of the law.
That is my view of the JOBS Act. Most of the concepts are good, but the execution is poor. I think Congress is missing the balance between investor protection and access to capital. That opinion is shared by the North American Securities Administrators Association. Here is a snippet from an editorial by Jack E. Herstein, president of NASAA:
The most jobs this cleverly named bill may create are jobs for fraudsters, like the Nigerian scammers, penny-stock pitchers and Ponzi schemers already lurking behind the Internet to cloak their schemes.
The Senate is mulling over their version of these bills where it seems to have bi-partisan support. President Obama has also thrown his support to some of the concepts in the JOBS Act. It seem likely that something will pass. According to Talking Points Memo it looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is willing to trade support for the JOBS Act for approval of some judicial nominees.