Heath Abshure, President of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) and Arkansas State Securities Commissioner, sharply criticized the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (the SEC’s) new rulemaking that will lift restrictions on general solicitation and general advertising for hedge funds and other private investment vehicles in a press-teleconference on October 9, 2012.  At the heart of the criticism is the contention that hedge funds and private equity funds could be among the amended rule’s biggest users and beneficiaries. “The SEC’s proposed rule would open the door for private equity and hedge funds, typically only offered to the most sophisticated investors, to advertise to the general public without putting in place basic disclosure requirements that would allow investors to make informed decisions about the products being offered. This is the wrong way to go,” remarked Heath Slavkin Corzo, senior legal and policy advisor of the AFL-CIO’s Office of Investment during the teleconference.

Under the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (the JOBS Act), as discussed here and here, the SEC was directed to amend Rule 506 of Regulation D under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, to permit general solicitation and general advertising in unregistered offerings made under Rule 506, provided that all purchasers of the securities are accredited investors.  In reaction to the SEC’s answer to the directives of the JOBS Act, Abshure called for the SEC to withdraw its proposal and draft a new rule that promotes capital formation without sacrificing investor protection.

“People don’t seem to think so, but this is a drastic change to the face of securities regulation,” Abshure said. “Rule 506 offerings already are the most frequent financial product at the heart of state enforcement investigations and actions. Lifting the advertising ban on these highly risky, illiquid offerings, without requiring appropriate safeguards, will create chaos in the market and expose investors to an even greater risk of fraud and abuse. Without adequate investor protections to safeguard the integrity of the private placement marketplace, investors should and will flee from the market, leaving small businesses without an important source of capital.”

“The Commission itself has acknowledged that lifting the ban on general solicitation in private offerings will increase the risk of fraud, potentially harming investors and issuers alike,” added Barbara Roper, Director of Investor Protection for the Consumer Federation of America and the chair of the Investor Issues task force of Americans for Financial Reform during the teleconference. “While the Commission is required by the JOBS Act to lift the solicitation ban, it also has an obligation to adopt rules that protect investors and promote market integrity and the authority to do so.  A number of reasonable, concrete proposals have been suggested that, if adopted, would significantly improve safeguards for investors in private offerings.  Its rule proposal completely ignores those suggestions.  It cannot in good conscience continue to do so.”

The full press release about the teleconference is available here