IMPROVING LEGAL DOCUMENTS IN CROWDFUNDING:  NEW RISK FACTOR FOR SUPREME COURT RULING

It appears the Supreme Court is about to strike down Roe v. Wade, allowing states to regulate or outlaw abortion. Many states are poised to do so with varying degrees of severity. 

In his draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Justice Alito states that the decision would not affect other rights, like the right to gay marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges), the right to engage in homosexual relationships (Lawrence v. Texas), or the right to contraception (Griswold v. Connecticut). In my opinion, you should take Justice Alito’s assurance with a large spoonful of salt.. Theoretically, all these cases rest on a constitutional right to privacy. If you knock that pillar down for one right it falls for all of them. On a practical level, Justice Alito himself voted against gay marriage and I have little doubt that there are at least five votes to overturn all these precedents.

Some states are already considering bans on contraception and surely challenges to gay marriage are close on the horizon.

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country, companies raising capital had to add one or more risk factors to their offering materials, describing how the pandemic could harm their businesses. I believe the Supreme Court’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization calls for the same thing.

Imagine a SAAS company in Austin, Texas, looking to recruit talented young engineers. Imagine the company’s ideal candidate:  a woman who just graduated from Stanford with a specialty in AI. If she has one job offer from the company in Austin and another from a company in Oregon it isn’t hard to see why the Texas company would have a competitive disadvantage, all other things being equal.

Companies are already trying to mitigate the risk. For example, Starbucks has announced free travel to employees to states where abortion is legal. But even that might not eliminate the risk. Do women want to travel out of state for medical care? And, in any case, many states where abortion is or will be illegal are trying to make it illegal to travel out of state for an abortion

Whatever the realities of the marketplace, our job as securities lawyers is to make investors aware of risks so our clients can’t be sued afterward. I suggest the following or something like it in the offering materials of any company where recruitment is important

State Laws Might impair the Company’s Ability to Recruit: The U.S. Supreme Court [seems poised to overturn] [has recently overturned] women’s privacy rights in health care decisions set forth in Roe v. Wade. Moreover, the reasoning used by the Court in overturning Roe v. Wade suggests that other constitutional rights could also become subject to restriction by the states, including the right to gay marriage and use of contraception. Texas, where the Company’s headquarters are located, has enacted strict laws regulating abortion and its political climate is such that it might seek to limit or take away other rights as well. These state laws could impair the Company’s ability to recruit and retain personnel and could put the Company at a competitive disadvantage with companies in other states.

The SEC Can Stop Your Regulation A Offering At Any Time

The SEC has two powerful tools to stop your Regulation A offering anytime.

Rule 258

Rule 258 allows the SEC to immediately suspend an offering if

  • The exemption under Regulation A is not available; or
  • Any of the terms, conditions, or requirements of Regulation A have not been complied with; or
  • The offering statement, any sales or solicitation of interest material, or any report filed pursuant to Rule 257 contains any untrue statement of a material fact or omits to state a material fact necessary to make the statements made, in light of the circumstances under which they are made, not misleading; or
  • The offering involves fraud or other violations of section 17 of the Securities Act of 1933; or
  • Something happened after filing an offering statement that would have made Regulation A unavailable had it occurred before filing; or
  • Anyone specified in Rule 262(a) (the list of potential bad actors) has been indicted for certain crimes; or
  • Proceedings have begun that could cause someone on that list to be a bad actor; or
  • The issuer has failed to cooperate with an investigation.

If the SEC suspends an offering under Rule 258, the issuer can appeal for a hearing – with the SEC – but the suspension remains in effect. In addition, at any time after the hearing, the SEC can make the suspension permanent.

Rule 258 gives the SEC enormous discretion. For example, the SEC may theoretically terminate a Regulation A offering if the issuer fails to file a single report or files late. And while there’s lots of room for good-faith disagreement as to whether an offering statement or advertisement failed to state a material fact, Rule 258 gives the SEC the power to decide.

Don’t worry, you might think, Rule 260 provides that an “insignificant” deviation will not result in the loss of the Regulation A exemption. Think again: Rule 260(c) states, “This provision provides no relief or protection from a proceeding under Rule 258.”

Rule 262(a)(7)

Rule 262(a)(7) is even more dangerous than Rule 258.

Rule 258 allows the SEC to suspend a Regulation A offering if the SEC concludes that something is wrong. Rule 262(a)(7), on the other hand, allows for suspension if the issuer or any of its principals is “the subject of an investigation or proceeding to determine whether a. . . . suspension order should be issued.”

That’s right: Rule 262(a)(7) allows the SEC to suspend an offering merely by investigating whether the offer should be suspended.

Effect on Regulation D

Suppose the SEC suspends a Regulation A offering under either Rule 258 or Rule 262(a)(7). In that case, the issuer is automatically a “bad actor” under Rule 506(d)(1)(vii), meaning it can’t use Regulation D to raise capital, either.

In some ways, it makes sense that the SEC can suspend a Regulation A offering easily because the SEC’s approval was needed in the first place. But not so with Regulation D, and especially not so with a suspension under Rule 262(a)(7). In that case, the issuer is prevented from using Regulation D – an exemption that does not require SEC approval – simply because the SEC is investigating whether it’s done something wrong. That seems. . . .wrong.

Conclusion

As all six readers of this blog know, I think the SEC has done a spectacular job with Crowdfunding. But what the SEC giveth the SEC can taketh away. I hope the SEC will use discretion exercising its substantial power under Rule 258 and Rule 262(a)(7).

Arizonia and the Series LLC

Led by Delaware, a number of states allow a “series” limited liability company. Think of the LLC itself as a building and each series as a cubicle within the building. If you follow the rules then the assets and liabilities in each cubicle are legally separate:  a creditor of one can’t get at the assets of another.

Thus, rather than forming a brand new LLC for each group of assets, a business can create separate series within one LLC, saving on state filing fees.

Apparently, Arizona really dislikes the series LLC. Arizona amended its LLC statute recently, and not only does the new statute not adopt the series concept for Arizona LLCs, it goes a step farther, refusing to recognize the concept even for LLCs organized in other states. Section 3901D of the Arizona statute provides that an Arizona resident who is a creditor of the series of a non-Arizona LLC can get at all the assets of the LLC, notwithstanding the laws of the state where the LLC was organized.

EXAMPLE:  NewCo LLC is formed in Delaware and has two series, Series X and Series Y, with Series X in the asbestos business and Series Y in the real estate business. Section 215 of the Delaware Limited Liability Company Act says that creditors of Series X can’t get at the assets of Series Y. But Arizona says they can, if they’re Arizona residents or the transactions took place in Arizona.

I wonder if that’s even constitutional. From law school I recall that states aren’t allowed to impose their own regulations on long-haul trucks if it impedes interstate commerce. This sounds similar.

But putting the constitutional question to the side, it’s hard to see the purpose of the law. NewCo LLC can keep the Arizona creditor away from its real estate assets by spending a couple hundred dollars more — in Delaware —and forming two wholly-owned subsidiary LLCs rather than two series. Just as likely, national companies using a series LLC will avoid doing business in Arizona, hardly a desirable outcome.

From the invention of the corporation hundreds of years ago to modern times, the history of commercial law is that governments accommodate the development of business. Here the Arizona legislature has done the opposite and it’s hard to see why.

Using a Transfer Agent Doesn’t Mean You Have a Single Entry on Your Cap Table

Many issuers are concerned that “Crowdfunding will screw up my cap table.” In response, several Title III funding portals offer a mechanism they promise will leave only a single entry on the issuer’s cap table, no matter how many investors sign up.

The claim is innocuous, i.e., it doesn’t really hurt anybody. But it’s also false.

The claim begins with section 12(g) of the Securities Exchange Act. Under section 12(g), an issuer must register its securities with the SEC and begin filing all the reports of a public company if the issuer has more than $10 million of total assets and any class of equity securities held of record by more than 500 non-accredited investors or more than 2,000 total investors.

17 CFR §240.12g5-1 defines what it means for securities to be held “of record.” For example, under 17 CFR §240.12g5-1(a)(2), securities held by a partnership are generally treated as held “of record” by one person, the partnership, even if the partnership has lots of partners. Similarly, under 17 CFR §240.12g5-1(a)(4), securities held by two or more persons as co-owners (e.g., as tenants in common) are treated as held “of record” by one person.

With their eyes on this regulation, the funding portals require each investor to designate a third party to act on the investor’s behalf. The third party acts as transfer agent, custodian, paying agent, and proxy agent, and also has the right to vote the investor’s securities (if the securities have voting rights). The funding portal then takes the position that all the securities are held by one owner “of record” under 17 CFR §240.12g5-1.

Two points before going further:

  • Title III issuers don’t need 17 CFR §240.12g5-1 to avoid reporting under section 12(g). Under 17 CFR §240.12g6(a), securities issued under Title III don’t count toward the 500/2,000 thresholds, as long as the issuer uses a transfer agent and has no more than $25 million of assets.
  • 17 CFR §240.12g5-1(b)(3) includes an anti-abuse rule:  “If the issuer knows or has reason to know that the form of holding securities of record is used primarily to circumvent the provisions of section 12(g). . . . the beneficial owners of such securities shall be deemed to be the record owners thereof.”

But put both those things to the side and assume that, by using the mechanism offered by the funding portal, the issuer has 735 investors but only one holder “of record.”

Does having one holder “of record” mean the issuer has only a single entry on its cap table? Of course not. At tax time, the issuer is still going to produce 735 K-1s.

The fact is, how many holders an issuer has “of record” for purposes of section 12(g) of the Exchange Act has nothing to do with cap tables. The leap from section 12(g) to cap tables is a rhetorical sleight-of-hand.

As I said in the beginning, the sleight-of-hand is mostly harmless. Except for some additional fees, neither the issuer nor the investors are any worse off. And the motivation is understandable:  too many issuers think Crowdfunding will get in the way of future funding rounds, even though that’s not true.

Even so, as a boring corporate lawyer and true believer in Crowdfunding, I’m uncomfortable with the sleight-of-hand. When SPVs become legal on March 15th perhaps the market will change.

Crowdfunding Real Estate

PODCAST: The Storage Investor Show

Real Estate Crowdfunding in 2021 with Mark Roderick – episode 9

In This Episode:

  • Updates to Accredited Investor qualifications
  • Who qualifies as a “Finder” of capital?
  • Title III crowdfunding changes
  • How can sponsors and investors take advantage of recent changes
  • Why crowdfunding is a marketing business

Guest Info:

Mr. Roderick concentrates his practice on the representation of privately-owned and emerging growth companies, including companies in the technology, real estate, and health care industries. Mark specializes in the representation of entrepreneurial, growth-oriented companies and their owners.

WHY I’M GRATEFUL THIS THANKSGIVING

My 10th great-grandfather was William Bradford, the leader of the Pilgrims, so I have a special fondness for Thanksgiving. Feeling a little out-of-sorts that COVID-19 kept family members away — and then realizing how little that meant relative to the real suffering of so many — I made my annual list of things I’m grateful for:

  • I’m grateful that while we couldn’t get together on Thanksgiving Day, my family is safe and healthy.
  • I’m grateful for my new law firm, Lex Nova Law, and partners I admire and trust. Character really does matter.
  • I’m thankful to live in a dynamic, capitalist country. All things considered, capitalism has done a terrific job during the pandemic, delivering goods and services through channels invented on the fly.
  • I’m grateful for Zoom and the other technologies that have allowed me to work during the pandemic without missing a beat.
  • I’m grateful for the nurses and doctors working on the front lines, putting their own lives at risk to save others, showing a kind of dedication those of us in the white collar world don’t see often.
  • I’m grateful for governors and elected officials around the world who acted courageously to save lives and for Anthony Fauci, an American hero.
  • I’m grateful for American entrepreneurs, with their unquenchable faith that things can be done better.
  • I’m grateful to the SEC for trusting American entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens, as it lays the foundations for the Crowdfunding ecosystem.
  • I’m grateful for the hundreds of thousands of investors who have expressed faith in that ecosystem with their hard-earned dollars.
  • I’m grateful that American democracy survived its greatest threat since the Civil War and that, despite some creaking of the old timbers, the machinery of our democracy worked again. Maybe blockchain or some other technology will make future elections easier, but until then we rely on the integrity of thousands election workers of both parties working together despite their ideological differences. Because of their hard work and decency, on January 20, 2021 our country will enjoy the miracle of another peaceful transition of power.
  • I am thankful to live in a diverse, changing, sometimes-chaotic country where it often seems we disagree about everything (we don’t). Like others, I worry that so many Americans have chosen alternative realities and conspiracy theories, but I have faith that these afflictions, like others in our history, will prove temporary.
  • Most of all I’m grateful for my clients, a diverse, energetic, endlessly-creative group of entrepreneurs who are making America better and in the process making my life infinitely more rewarding.

Perhaps 2021 could be a little less. . . .interesting? No matter how that turns out, let’s all step into the future with thanksgiving and hope.

Thanks for reading.

MARK

SEC Announces Two Major Changes to Crowdfunding

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

This special edition podcast covers two announcements from the SEC.

The first is that in due course, it will be permitted to pay commissions to someone who helps you find equity for your projects based on the amount of money that they raise for you. This is a seismic change.

The second is the addition of non-accredited investors to deals that would normally only be available to accredited investors. rules that the SEC issued to facilitate Title III crowdfunding during the coronavirus crisis.

TWO REASONS WHY EVERY TITLE II PORTAL SHOULD ADD A TITLE III PORTAL

If you operate a Title II Crowdfunding platform, whether Rule 506(c) or Rule 506(b), you should add the functionality for Title III. Two reasons:

  • It will be good for you, i.e., you will make more money.
  • It will be good for our country.

Adding Title III Will Be Good for You

Any day now the SEC will announce a bunch of changes to the Title III rules, including these: 

  • Sponsors will be able to raise $5M rather than $1.07M.
  • There will be no limit on the amount an accredited investor can invest.
  • The limits for non-accredited investors will be raised.

Most of the deals on your site are less than $5M. Even though the $5M limit under Title III is per-sponsor rather than per-deal, this means that if your Title III portal were up and running today you could expand your potential audience from about 10 million households to about 120 million households.

There are four benefits to making deals available to non-accredited investors.

The first, immediate benefit is that non-accredited investors do have money. By adding non-accredited investors you make it easier to fill deals.

The second, immediate benefit is that adding non-accredited investors allows you to market to affinity groups. If you’re selling a mixed-use project in Washington, D.C. you can market to the neighbors. If you’re selling a company developing a therapy for cystic fibrosis you can market to everyone whose family has been affected.

The third, immediate benefit is you can start taking commissions. If you’re like most Title II portals you spend time and effort to make sure you’re not a broker-dealer. If you were a Title III portal those issues would disappear.

The fourth benefit is not immediate but is much more important than the first three, in my opinion. It’s about building a brand and a funnel of investors.

If you operate a portal you are selling a product, no different than shoes or automobiles. Just as Mercedes offers the A-Class sedan to bring less-affluent customers into the showroom and the Mercedes family, adding Title III can vastly increase your audience and revenue as some non-accredited investors become accredited and the SEC further relaxes the rules for non-accredited investors.

Alternatively, they could start shopping in somebody else’s Title III showroom.

Adding Title III Will Be Good for the Country

Our country is suffering in many ways. Yes, we’re suffering politically, but in some ways the political suffering is just one manifestation of our deep and deepening income and wealth inequalities. You can find a hundred charts showing the same thing:  the very wealthy are becoming wealthier while everyone else, especially the lower 50%, becomes poorer and more desperate.

When I was a teenager I delivered newspapers in Arlington, Virginia. In my suburban territory I delivered papers to accredited investors, whose houses were a little bigger and drove Cadillacs and Town Cars, and to non-accredited investors, whose houses were a little smaller and drove Chevies and Toyotas. One of my customers was George Shulz, the Secretary of the Treasury, who came to the door in his bathrobe and tipped well.

Tax policies, trade policies, all the instrumentalities of government have been focused over the last 40 years to serve the interests of the well-off. Part of it was cynical politics, part too much faith (which I shared) in the power of markets to lift all boats. Most of the boats in our country remain moored at low tide. Steve Mnuchin and his wife wouldn’t dream of living in that neighborhood today while 98% of Americans couldn’t afford to.

Call me an idealist, but I believe Crowdfunding can at least claw back some of the inequality. The deals on your Title II portal should be available to ordinary Americans. They should participate in those returns. They should regain faith that the capitalist system can work for them. We should all hope that the phrase “institutional quality,” when applied to investments, will lose its meaning.

Crowdfunding isn’t the whole solution, but it’s part of the solution. And you can make it happen.

PODCAST: Is the SEC Democratizing Investment?

Democratizing investment. A huge step forward.

My guest today is Mark Roderick, founder of Lex Nova Law and one of the top online crowdfunding experts in the country. Mark and I discuss the very exciting changes proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulation crowdfunding, or Reg CF, the securities regulation that is really the first step taken by the S.E.C. towards democratizing investment. The additional changes proposed will give this regulation real legs.

Impact Real Estate Investing Podcast

Insights and Inspirations

  • Mark believes the latest round of changes to the crowdfunding rules will bring some fundamental changes to the industry including higher quality deals.
  • As the deals get better, so will the industry grow, and more investors join in.
  • He expects to see changes in the physical landscape in just 5 years as these rules begin to have a far-reaching effect.
set of medical protective face masks

COVID-19 DISCLOSURES IN CROWDFUNDING OFFERINGS

The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates why we include a list of “risk factors” when we sell securities. Suppose a company issued stock on January 1, 2020 without disclosing that its major supplier was located in Wuhan, China and that Wuhan was experiencing an outbreak of a new virus. Investors who bought the stock likely would be entitled to their money back and have personal claims against the founders, officers, and directors.

If the company issued stock on October 1, 2019, before the pandemic began, its duty to tell investors about the pandemic would depend on which version of Crowdfunding it used:

  • If it used Title II Crowdfunding (Rule 506(c)) the company would have no duty to tell investors about the pandemic.
  • If it used Title III Crowdfunding (Regulation CF) the company would be required to tell investors about the pandemic in its next annual report.
  • If it used Title IV Crowdfunding (Regulation A) the company would be required to tell investors about the pandemic in its next semiannual or annual report, whichever comes first.

CAUTION:  That assumes the Company was finished selling stock on October 1, 2019. If it was continuing to sell stock when it learned of the pandemic, then the Company would be required to tell new investors. And if a Title III offering hadn’t yet closed, all existing investors would have the right to change their minds.

CAUTION:  A company – even a publicly-reporting company – generally is not required to tell investors about COVID-19 if it is not selling securities currently, because pandemics are not on the list of disclosure items found in Form 1-U (for Regulation A issuers) or Form 8-K (for publicly-reporting companies). But be careful. For example, if a Regulation A issuer redeems stock without disclosing the effect of COVID-19, it could be liable under Rule 10b-5 and otherwise.

Assume that we’re required to tell investors about COVID-19 today, whether because we’re selling stock or are filing an annual or semiannual report. What do we say?

If this were January, we might say something simple:  “Wuhan, China is experiencing an outbreak of a highly-contagious virus, which is disrupting economic activity. If this virus should spread to the United States, as epidemiologists predict, it could have an adverse effect on our business.”

But this isn’t January. We have much more information today and are therefore required to say more. Exactly how much information we share is as much an art as a science. Our goal is always to give investors enough information to make an informed decision without making the disclosure so dense as to be useless.

Here are two examples, one for multi-family housing projects and the other for a technology company.

Multi-Family Housing

With unemployment reaching levels not seen since the Great Depression, by some estimates already 20% and rising, we are already experiencing a number of negative effects from the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • We are experiencing a decrease in the number of phone calls and visits from potential new tenants. Year-to-year compared to 2019, we experienced a decrease in traffic of approximately ____% in March and ____% in April.
  • We are experiencing an increase in rent delinquency. Year-to-year compared to 2019, the rate of delinquencies greater than 30 days rose from ____% to ____% during March and ____% to ____% during April.
  • We are spending more time and resources on collections and marketing.

Although we are working from incomplete information, we expect these trends to continue and perhaps accelerate, depending on the trajectory of the virus and the ability to re-open the economy. Among possible outcomes:

  • Occupancy levels might decrease, although they have not decreased yet as compared to the same periods in 2019.
  • We do not intend to raise rents until the pandemic eases. Depending on circumstances we could be forced to decrease rents.
  • We expect some tenants to re-locate for economic reasons, from Class A projects to Class B projects and from Class B projects to Class C projects. In some cases tenants might leave the market altogether, by moving in with relatives, for example. Because we operate primarily Class B properties, we are uncertain whether the net effect for our properties will be positive or negative.
  • Conversely, we expect that economic uncertainty will cause some families to postpone buying a house and rent instead, increasing the pool of potential tenants.
  • The pandemic has caused significant uncertainly in the value of many assets, including real estate. Until the uncertainty is resolved it might be difficult for us to borrow money or raise capital by selling equity.
  • If occupancy rates and rents decrease while delinquencies increase, we could be unable to meet our obligations as they become due. A reduction in cash flows and/or asset values could also cause us to be in default under the loan covenants under our senior debt. Either scenario could lead to foreclosure and the loss of one or more properties.

At least in the short run we expect the pandemic to cause our revenue to decrease, perhaps significantly. As a result, we are taking steps to conserve cash. Among other things we have decided not to make any cash distributions until the economic outlook stabilizes and have reduced our staff. We have also begun to contact lenders to request a deferral of our mortgage loan obligations.

We do not know how long the pandemic will last or how its effects will ripple through the American economy. In a best-case scenario we would experience a short-term drop in cash flow and a dip in asset values as the economy adjusts to a new reality. In a worst-case scenario, where occupancy and rent levels drop significantly over an extended period of time, we would be unable to make mortgage payments and possibly lose assets, risking or even forfeiting investor equity if asset values drop far enough. Based on the information currently available to us we expect an outcome closer to the former scenario than to the latter and are marshalling all our experience and assets toward that end.

Technology

Our software provides a virtual connection between internet-based office telephone systems and cellular phones, allowing incoming calls to the office number to be re-directed to the cellular phone and outgoing calls made from the cellular phone to appear to the recipient as if they were made from the office number. Will tens of millions of people working remotely due the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for our software has grown substantially. On January 1, 2020 our software had been installed on ________ cellular devices worldwide. On May 1, 2020 it was installed on ________ devices.

As a result, we expect both our revenue and our net income for 2020 to increase substantially. However, with many workers now returning to their offices on a full-time or part-time basis it is unclear whether the high demand for our software will continue. Consequently, we are unable to provide a reliable forecast for revenue or net income at this time.

With more than ________ new users, even if temporary, we are accelerating developing of our new consumer-based communications tools. We expected to launch these tools in Q1 2021 but are now aiming for Q3 2020.

Even before the pandemic many of our employees worked remotely at least part of the time. Therefore, our operations have not been affected significantly by the pandemic. Tragically, however, David Newsome, the leader of our marketing team, contracted COVID-19 and died on March 27th in Brooklyn, NY. We have not yet found a replacement for David, who was with the company from its founding in 2013.

We were considering purchasing a commercial building in Palo Alto as the headquarters for our engineering team. Given our successful experience working remotely we have decided to put those plans on hold at least for the time being.