If you are assisting someone else’s company in raising money and are receiving a fee for doing so, then you must do such activities within the confines of the securities laws. These laws essentially provide three different ways in which one may legally raise money for another for a fee. You can’t get a “commission” or “bonus” or anything of value really for bringing an investor to another company or person unless you fit into one of these three categories.
BROKER DEALER LICENSE- First, if you are licensed and are registered with an SEC registered broker dealer you may receive commissions and other forms of compensation for raising money in public or private offerings (e.g. private placements). The newest form of registration from FINRA is designed to license and regulate those who operate as “investment bankers” and is called a Series 79 license. This license allows a holder to collect commissions and other fees for raising funds for an offering of equity (e.g. stock) or debt (e.g. notes or bonds). In addition to passing the licensing test, you’ll need to associate with a broker dealer.
FINDER’S FEE- Second, if you take a limited role in the raising of funds and are paid a flat or hourly fee, as opposed to commissions based on funds raised, you may be able to be paid a finder’s fee for introducing investors to others. A finder’s fee can only be paid to a finder so long as; a) the finder isn’t involved in negotiations of the securities being sold, b) the finder doesn’t discuss the details of the securities, c) the finder isn’t paid based on money raised (e.g. no commission), d) the finder doesn’t perform “finding” services on a regular basis. In sum, a finder’s fee may be paid but only to someone who makes introductions of potential investors and the fee amount must be based on some factor other than compensation relating the persons or amount of securities sold to those introduced by the finder.
DIRECTOR OR OFFICER OF OFFERING COMPANY- Third, you may be able to assist in raising funds for another if you are an officer or director of the company whom you are raising money for. The SEC promulgated Rule 3a4-1 which is a Safe Harbor from enforcement and allows someone who serves as a paid Director or Officer to assist in selling the company’s securities. There are many ways to qualify under this Rule but the most common is to meet the following criteria; a) be paid as a director or officer by salary or other criteria that is not linked to sales of securities made (e.g. be the CFO or Treasurer and offer financial consulting advice in addition to working with potential investors), b) can’t be associated with a broker dealer and cannot have a prior SEC disciplinary history, c) should stay on with the company following closing of the offering so as to show your purpose as a Director or Officer was not just for raising funds, d) takes a passive and restrictive role in selling the securities and refers to the CEO or President for details and negotiations.
Failure to comply with the securities laws can result in civil and criminal action. In addition, investors who can claim a failure to comply with the laws outlined above are able to rescind their investment and can subject the company’s founders and the person soliciting the investment with personal liability for any losses.
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 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.
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 these challenges of securities law violations. For help in structuring your investments please contact the law firm at 602-761-9798