Photo of the US Securities and Exchange Commission logo on the exterior of the SEC building with the text "When Does Raising Money in an LLC, Joint Venture or Partnership Violate Securities Laws."We’ve all heard the buzz words of crowdfunding, PPMs, and IPOs, but there are less complicated ways to raise money and start a business and one of the most reliable and most used methods is that of partnerships or joint ventures.

If you ‘re raising money from others in an LLC, partnership, or joint venture, you must take specific precautions in structuring your documents so that the investment of money from any member, partner, or joint venturer does not constitute a violation of federal or state securities laws. Failure to comply with the securities laws can result in civil and criminal penalties. Many real estate investments, real estate developments, and emerging companies rely on numerous strategies to raising capital that are outside of publicly traded stock and that do not require registration with a state securities division or the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. This article addresses those strategies and outlines some of the key issues to consider when raising funds through an LLC, partnership, or joint venture arrangement. This article addresses the legal considerations that should be analyzed when bringing in “cash partners” or “investors” into your LLC, partnership, or joint venture.

Is the LLC Member, Partner or Joint Venturer Contributing More Than Just Money?

The courts have widely held that an investment in an LLC, joint venture, or partnership is a security when the investor is investing solely cash and has no involvement, vote, or say in the investment. In these instances where the investor just puts in cash (sometimes called “silent cash partner” arrangements), the investment will likely be deemed a security. In a famous securities law case called Williamson, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a joint venture contract investment is a security if the investor has little say or voting power, no involvement in the business or investment, and no experience that would provide any benefit to the business or investment. Williamson, 645 F.2d 424. As a result, to avoid triggering these factors and having your investment or business deemed a security we strongly recommend that all investors in Joint Venture agreements, LLCs, or partnerships have voting rights and that they participate in the key decision-making functions of the investment or business. Investors do not have to be part of the management team but they do need to have voting rights and need to have real opportunities to use those voting rights. For example, they could have voting rights on incurring additional debt, on management compensation, and/or on buying or selling property.

Don’t Give Yourself Unlimited Control as Manager

In most LLCs with cash partners, the person organizing the investment and running the operations is often the manager of the LLC, partnership, or joint venture and has the ability to bind the company or partnership. When making this selection as the manager, it is key that you do not give yourself unlimited control and authority. If you do give yourself unlimited control as manager, your investors may be deemed to have purchased a security since their voting rights will have been extinguished by placing to much control and power in the manager/management. What is recommended is that the members have the ability to remove the manager by majority vote and that the manager may only make key decisions (e.g. incurring debt, selling an asset, setting management salaries, etc.) upon the agreement and majority vote of the investors. While key decisions and issues should be left to the members, day to day decisions can be handled by the manager without a vote of the members/investors.

Don’t Combine Too Many People Into One LLC, JV or Partnership

The Courts have consistently held that even if an investor is given voting rights and has an opportunity to vote on company matters that the investor’s interest can be deemed a security if there are too many other investors involved in the LLC, JV, or Partnership. Holden, 978 F.2d 1120. As a general rule of advice, you should only structure investments and partnerships that include 5 or less cash investors as the securities laws and the involvement of more individuals than this could potentially cause the investment to be deemed a security. When there are more than 10 investors it is critical for clients to consider structuring the investment as a Regulation D Offering and that they complete offering documents and memorandums and make a notice filings to the SEC. Many people refer to this type of investment structure as a PPM.  When there are a lot of investors involved, a Regulation D Offering provides the person organizing the investment with exemptions from the securities laws and can allow someone to raise an unlimited amount of money from an un-limited amount of investors.

In sum, there are many factors and issues to consider when raising money from others in an LLC, JV, or partnership and it is crucial that you properly structure and document these investments so that they can withstand thes challenges of securities law violations. For help in structuring your investments please contact the law firm at 602-761-9798.

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