March 12, 2012

House Passes JOBS Act, Seeking to Fast-Track Capital Formation Reforms

Late last week, the House of Representative passed H.R. 3606, The Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, with strong bi-partisan support. This bill was comprised of a collection of bills that have been introduced in the House over the past year, all of which focus in one way or another on the ability of companies to raise capital and stay private longer. The key measures included in the JOBS Act are:

Title I, Reopening American Capital Markets to Emerging Growth Companies. This portion of the Act is what is most commonly referred to as the "IPO On-Ramp" legislation, and it is meant to encourage smaller companies to go public through a process where public company obligations would be phased in over time (hence the on-ramp reference). This legislation would amend the 1933 Act and 1934 Act to create a new category of issuer referred to as an "emerging growth company," which is an issuer with total annual gross revenues of less than $1 billion, and would continue to have this status until (i) the last day of the fiscal year in which the issuer had $1 billion in annual gross revenues or more; (ii) the last day of the fiscal year following the fifth anniversary of the issuer's initial public offerings; and (iii) the date when the issuer is deemed to be a "large accelerated filer" as defined by the SEC. The legislation provides for scaled regulation to be applied to the emerging growth company for up to five years following the IPO, including breaks on compliance with things like Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, mandatory Say-on-Pay, and the Dodd-Frank CEO pay ratio rules (to come). On the 1933 Act registration front, the legislation would permit greater pre-filing communications, allow for expanded research at the time of the IPO by offering participants, and would provide for pre-filing confidential review of draft registration statements by the SEC Staff.

Title II, Access to Capital for Job Creators. This portion of the legislation would remove the prohibition against general solicitation and general advertising in private offerings under Regulation D, provided that all of the purchasers of securities are accredited investors. Similarly, general solicitation and general advertising would not be prohibited in secondary sales so long as only QIBs are purchasers in the offering. In addition, the legislation would provide that offline and online forums bringing together companies and investors would not be treated as broker-dealers unless they receive transaction-based fees for their activities.

Title III, Entrepreneur Access to Capital. This part of the bill would provide an exemption for crowdfunding, by permitting offerings up to $1 million ($2 million in some cases), provided that investor contributions are limited to $10,000 or 10% of the investor's annual income, whichever is less. Requirements targeted at investor protection are imposed on the issuer and/or the intermediary involved in the crowdfunding effort.

Title IV, Small Company Formation. This part of the legislation is what is commonly referred to as Regulation A reform, raising the limit for Regulation A offerings from $5 million to $50 million. Most importantly, the legislation would exempt Regulation A offering from state securities laws when the Regulation A securities are (i) offered or sold through a broker-dealer; (ii) offered or sold on a national securities exchange; or (iii) sold to a qualified purchaser as defined by the SEC.

Title V, Private Company Flexibility and Growth. This portion of H.R. 3606 increases the 1934 Act registration shareholder of record threshold from 500 to 2,000 (only 500 of which can be non-accredited investors). Employees receiving company securities under employee benefit plans would be excluded from calculating the number of record holders.

Title VI, Capital Expansion. This portion of the Act would increase the shareholder of record threshold from 500 to 2,000 for banks and bank holding companies, and would provide that a bank or bank holding company could terminate 1934 Act registration if the number of holders of record drops to less than 1,200.

Title VII, Outreach on Changes to the Law. This part of the Act requires SEC outreach to certain small and medium-sized businesses informing them of the effect of the law, so that these business are made fully aware of the benefits of the legislation.

What's Next for These Legislative Efforts?

The Administration issued a statement supporting the JOBS Act. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said that the Senate will move forward with its own legislation, most likely consolidating a number of the companion bills that have been introduced in the Senate over the last year, and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) said his panel will hold a hearing tomorrow on the content of the legislative package. All reports are pointing toward quick action in the Senate, although at this point it is difficult to say if and when a bill that can be reconciled with the House bill will be passed.

Questions Remain About These Measures

Not everyone is wild about the approaches contemplated by these JOBS Act measures. Beyond the obvious question of whether, as the name implies, these securities law tweaks will actually have any impact at all on the employment market, some have raised concern with the investor protections that might be compromised by some of these legislative initiatives. For example, last week Lynn Turner testified before the Senate Banking Committee on the state of IPOs and capital formation in the US and noted: "The proposed legislation is a dangerous and risky experiment with the U.S. capital markets, and the savings of over 100 million Americans who depend on those markets. The evidence does not support the need for it. In fact, it contradicts it. I do not believe it will add jobs but may certainly result in investor losses. ... As a result, I do not support the various bills including the IPO on ramp and crowd funding legislation." Similar concerns have been expressed by groups such as the Council for Institutional Investors, Consumers Federation, Americans for Financial Reform, and AFL-CIO.

- Dave Lynn