Friday, August 17, 2012

State Securities Administrators Urge SEC to Employ Standard Rulemaking Process in Implementing JOBS Act Regulation D Changes

Ahead of the August 22 SEC Open Meeting, the North American Securities Administrators Association urged the Commission to follow the standard rulemaking process by publishing for comment a specific proposed rule and not adopt an interim rule implementing the JOBS Act elimination of the ban on general solicitation under Regulation D. In a letter to the SEC, the NASAA said that, given the complexity of the issues involved in the changes to Rule 506, plus the enormous impact those changes will have on how these risky investments will be offered, the Commission should  follow its normal course of publishing the proposed rule for public comment before it becomes effective. While cognizant that the Commission could adopt an interim rule with a subsequent comment period, NASAA is highly doubtful of the Commission’s ability to make any significant revisions to a temporary rule once in place, especially a temporary rule with overly broad exemptive provisions.

While also aware that the JOBS Act contains a 90-day limit for the changes to Rule 506, NASAA noted that many of the rulemakings required by the Dodd-Frank Act are long overdue. The state securities group encouraged the Commission to prioritize investor-protection rules ahead of the exemptions in the JOBS Act, and to resist the pressure to act hastily, especially where ill-considered changes could have such devastating impacts on investors.

Many proponents of the changes to Rule 506 suggest the amendments are simple and straightforward, and the NASAA appreciates the pressure the Commission is under to act quickly. However, the Commission must grapple with some very complex issues in its rulemaking. For example, the Commission must establish what it means for an issuer to take reasonable steps to verify that all purchasers are accredited. Also, the SEC should provide clarity by articulating the scope of ancillary services and compensation that are permissible for unregistered platforms. To avoid damage to federal and state enforcement efforts, said the association, the SEC should also make changes to the Form D and its filing requirements.

 The Commission has an obligation to conduct a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of rule changes, said the association.  Although NASAA does not believe that regulatory decisions based strictly upon costs and benefits necessarily yield the right results, the Commission should apply the same standards to an exemptive rulemaking that it applies to other rules that are less popular with the business community. A proper analysis of costs and benefits would require the Commission to defer action until comments are received on proposed changes to Rule 506.

In this particular rulemaking, observed NASAA, the Commission’s evaluation of costs must include the losses sustained in low-quality investments that are marketable under the newly-expanded Rule 506 but would never have been sold successfully in a registered offering that required full disclosure. The costs must also include the amount investors will lose in fraudulent offerings as a result of the changes to Rule 506. In 2011, noted NASAA, states brought more than 200 enforcement actions for fraudulent Rule 506 offerings. Unfortunately, NASAA believes that the number of frauds and the amount of damages can be expected to increase when it becomes easier to solicit victims under Rule 506.

In addition, a failure of the new rule to strike the proper balance between capital formation and investor protection will be very damaging to investors and ultimately to the legitimate issuers who need investors. To craft the best possible rule, advised NASAA, the Commission should first seek comment on a specific proposal, not just general comments on the possible rules that could be adopted under the JOBS Act.