Investment Crowdfunding Requires an Attorney — with Long Securities Law Experience

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan



The entrepreneurial press, indeed, even the popular press, is abuzz about regulation crowdfunding (i.e., investment crowdfunding), which became legal on May 16, 2016.  And according to some advertisements (primarily by portals, the businesses which will provide the platforms for such crowdfunding), the fund-raising company does not need an attorney, although it would be “nice.”  Rather, they say, or imply, small and large businesses with their portals can simply get on the internet to quickly fund their ideas and better the economy at the same time!

Do not believe either the buzz or the advertisements.

Regulation CF is Only a Small (Albeit Very Important) Part of the Applicable Law

Regulation crowdfunding (17 CFR Parts 200,  et seq.)(“Reg. CF”) though it is a sea change from (some of) the rules governing entrepreneurial finance, it is not for everyone.  Indeed, for most entrepreneurs it should be considered as a last resort only.  (See, for example, “Regulation Crowdfunding; Is it Right for You?”, St. Louis Small Business Monthly, June 2016, p. 29.)  Secondly, Reg. CF adds to the rules and required steps for legally raising capital , and thus creates even more of a need for the assistance of a lawyer.

That is, the only (albeit very important) change in the law is that now certain “general solicitation” is allowed to promote certain types offerings of securities.  But not all general solicitation is allowed.  (For example, much information which could be promulgated other than on the platform of a portal such as by newspaper or television is still illegal.)

Virtually all other regulations, statutes, laws – and judicial lore – applicable to raising capital prior to Reg. CF remain applicable and will be applied by securities regulators – and by attorneys for investors who lose money in their crowdfunded investments. The securities regulators, which have authority to prosecute suspicious offerings,  have been opposed to and wary of investment crowdfunding since it was required by the JOBS Act in 2012, including Missouri (see, for example, “Kander Issues Investor Alert on Crowdfunding.”)

With the exception of allowing (limited) general solicitation, all the law (and the lore of the regulators and courts which developed since the Securities Act of 1933) still applies to all offerings, including crowdfunded offerings.  So do the complicated rules and methods. For example: Continue reading »

Investment Crowdfunding Will Be Legal But Will It Be an Improvement?

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan



In the JOBS Act adopted in April 2012, Congress required the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to adopt rules legalizing (i.e., exempting from the requirement to register with the SEC) the offer and sale of securities by small business issuers (which cannot afford registered public offerings) using mass media, to-wit: the Internet, social media, etc. Historically, both state and federal exemptions required “privateness” and forbade “general solicitation.”

On October 30, 2015, the SEC, in a 686 page release, finally adopted rules (see pages 547-686) to allow investment crowdfunding (the use of mass media to make offers and sales to non-accredited investors, i.e., persons with less than $1 million net worth and incomes under $200,000 annually). The rules will become effective in April 2016.

Supporters argue that these rules simply bring the offering and sales of securities into the modern age of mass media and allow persons of limited means to participate in the great boom of entrepreneurship. Critics, on the other hand, point out that those are the very persons who are the least investment sophisticated and the most vulnerable to financial fraud.

What Was Available Before Investment Crowdfunding?

Continue reading »

Regulation Crowdfunding: Is It Right for You?

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan



To much ballyhoo, on October 30, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) finally adopted rules to allow investment crowdfunding (which the SEC calls “Regulation Crowdfunding”). That is, it allows the use of mass media (Internet, etc.) (called “general solicitation”) to make offers and sales to non-accredited investors. Those are persons with less than $1 million net worth and annual incomes under $200,000. (Under present rules, general solicitation may be used only to solicit purchases from “accredited” investors.) The new rules will not become effective before April 2016.

“Regulation Crowdfunding”: A Method for True Investment Crowdfunding

Conceptually, allowance of general solicitation to solicit non-accredited investors is a sea change, in direct conflict with the basic investor protection philosophy of the SEC and state regulators since adoption of the Securities Act of 1933. The actual benefit of the new rules, however, is in some doubt. Continue reading »

SEC Finally Proposes Rules to Allow Crowdfunding

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan



Not quite ten months late, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on October 23, 2013 proposed rules to allow entrepreneurs and other small businesses to advertise investments in their companies on the Internet and in other general venues, and to allow persons other than wealthy investors to purchase those investments. Congress, in the JOBS Act signed by President Obama on April 5, 2013, had told the SEC to propose such rules by December 31, 2012. (In fairness, the SEC was faced with great pressures from numerous quarters, including the legislators themselves, concerning the content of the rules, which made that deadline impossible to meet.)

This type of investing, called “investment crowdfunding,” was illegal, and will remain illegal until the process of review, amendment and adoption of final rules is complete. The SEC has asked the public for comment on the proposed rules within 90 days. At least a few months of further processing after that 90 day period will be required before the rules are final. Continue reading »

False Economy: Why Saving a Few Dollars on Legal Fees Now Can Cost You Big Later

A. Thomas DeWoskin

By A. Thomas DeWoskin



 

 

  • You’re about to sign a lease for your company’s new premises. Should you have a lawyer review it, or save the money?
  • You’re about to sign an employment agreement with your new employer. Should you have a lawyer review it, or save the money?
  • You and your best friend are going to start a new business. Should you have a lawyer advise you, or get the forms off the internet and save the money?

Both in jest and with some seriousness, business people, especially entrepreneurs, tend to view lawyers skeptically. Their perception is that lawyers run up fees, make simple transactions complicated, and sometimes cause deals to fall apart completely with all of their questions.

This is a short-sighted view of how attorneys can help you and your business. Experienced business minds understand that lawyers, when properly used at the beginning of a transaction rather than later after problems have developed, can be problem avoiders. And a problem avoided can be big money saved.

In the lease situation above, for example, your lawyer would be sure that you signed the lease in such a way that only your company, not you personally, would be liable. She might negotiate a provision that you don’t pay any rent while the space is being readied for your occupancy or for reduced rent if the landlord doesn’t provide promised services. An experienced attorney has seen a lot of leases, and knows the traps they often contain.

Lawyers aren’t deal breakers. Their job is to point out the potential risks in a transaction so you, the client, can decide whether those risks are worth the potential benefits of proceeding. If the risk/reward ratio isn’t to your liking, then YOU break the deal. If the risk is acceptable, then you proceed. In either event, you have made the decision in an informed and practical manner. You are in control; your lawyer, like all of your professional service providers, works for you. Your attorney’s role is to provide advice, share wisdom and insight, and help you make the business decisions. Continue reading »

Two-year, Non-solicitation Activity Covenant Upheld in Illinois for Seasonal Tax Employee

David A. Zobel

By David A. Zobel



An Illinois appellate court recently upheld a two-year, non-solicitation activity covenant and one-year anti-raiding covenant between a tax preparation service and its employee, despite the employee’s seasonal employment of just three months. Zabaneh Franchises, LLC v. Walker, 972 N.E. 2d 344 (Ill. App. 2012).

In July of 2010, Zabaneh Franchises, LLC, an income tax preparation service based in Quincy, Ill., purchased an existing H&R Block, Inc. franchise. The sale included an assignment of employment agreements with H&R Block’s employees, including that with Terri Walker. Walker had signed an employment agreement in November 2009, as she did annually beginning in 2003. Pursuant to this agreement, Walker agreed to work during the 2010 “tax season,” from January 2 through April 15, 2010. Walker completed this tax season employment without incident.

In February 2011, Zabaneh filed suit against Walker alleging that within a few months of leaving Zabaneh in April 2010, Walker started her own tax preparation business, solicited clients, and hired employees of H&R Block in violation of her employment agreement. Zabaneh’s complaint sought a temporary restraining order against Walker to bar her from engaging further in such activities. The trial court found Walker’s employment agreement to constitute a “contract of adhesion” (a “take it or leave it” imbalanced agreement favoring one party) and denied Zabaneh’s request for a temporary restraining order. The case was subsequently dismissed with prejudice.

On appeal, the appellate court was asked to consider whether Walker’s employment agreement was reasonable and enforceable. In doing so, the court noted that the Illinois Supreme Court had recently addressed the proper standard for analyzing the enforceability of restricted covenants in an employment agreement in Reliable Fire Equipment Co. v. Arredondo, 965 N.E.2d 393 (Ill. 2012). Continue reading »

The Facebook Folly: Why Browsing an Applicant’s Facebook Profile Could Present Problems for Missouri Employers

David A. Zobel

By David A. Zobel



Within the past few months more and more news outlets have reported stories of employers asking job applicants for their Facebook login information. While many applicants understandably feel uncomfortable with the idea of their potential employer delving through their private lives, applicants are typically not in the position to decline.

This new trend has sparked an inevitable inquiry: is it legal? At this time, the answer is uncertain. Like many issues arising from the fast-paced and ever-changing world of the Internet and social media, the law has not caught up with the question. There does not appear to be a statute, regulation or court decision directly on point – either at the federal or state level. Consequently, experts on both sides of the issue have begun considering and arguing whether any statutes, regulations, or court decisions indirectly apply to the issue.

Missouri statute does not appear to directly prohibit such a practice; however, this does not mean it is wise for employers to engage in it. The reason has little to do with the actual practice of asking for the login information, but rather concerns what may be potentially discovered by such practice. No, I am not referring to finding rants about past employers or photos of bad decisions and misdemeanors. Employers should be concerned about finding family or pregnancy photos, photos of the applicant in the hospital, and/or religious views.

Continue reading »

Importance of Maintaining Formalities with Your LLC: It Will Affect Your Deductions

Patrick J. Murphy

By Patrick J. Murphy



Many individuals establish LLCs and then operate a business as if it was an extension of themselves, commingling funds and not following proper formalities. A recent Tax Court decision provides a sobering realization for individuals who fail to properly title their assets and follow the required formalities. In this case, the court found that a taxpayer’s purchase of an RV did not increase the amount he had at-risk in the LLC because he could not show the LLC owned or used the RV. As a result, deductions he had taken based upon that amount at-risk were disallowed by the IRS.

In Estate of Roberts v. CIR, the taxpayer had established an LLC to lease equipment to his S corporation. He lent money to the LLC, which issued him a promissory note in that amount. With the proceeds of the loan, the LLC purchased an RV. However, there were several issues with the RV’s ownership and use. Even though the RV was titled in the name of CTI Leasing, it was not titled in the name “CTI Leasing, LLC,” the company’s legal name. The EIN on the car title belonged to his S corporation. The RV was not on the LLC’s depreciation schedule. The taxpayer used the RV for his own purposes. Lastly, there was no record that the LLC ever used the RV, because there was no written lease between the LLC and the S corporation concerning the RV.

As a result, the IRS concluded, and the Tax Court confirmed, there was no evidence that the LLC owned the RV or used it. Because the taxpayer could not show that the LLC owned or used the RV, the taxpayer was unable to claim tax deductions based upon the LLC’s capital at-risk in connection with the RV.

There are a few items to take away from this case:

  1. You should always properly title your corporate assets and use the corporate title LLC, Corp., or Inc., as the case may be.
  2. If you have multiple business entities, you must keep assets of each entity separate from other assets. If you lease an asset among entities, you must have a proper lease in writing executed by both entities.
  3. It would be much cheaper for the taxpayer to seek the guidance of an accountant or attorney when completing these transactions than suing the IRS in Tax Court for the disallowed tax deductions.

These days, with Legal Zoom and other ready-to-order LLCs, people are buying assets and operating businesses without knowing the consequences of their actions. Before you enter into large transactions, it is important to understand the formalities that must be followed in order to receive the intended tax consequences.

Posted by Attorney Patrick J. Murphy, CPA. As both an attorney and a CPA, Murphy’s practice includes sophisticated estate planning approaches as well as corporate transactions and advice in mergers and acquisitions, buy/sell agreements, corporate structuring, and real estate transactions for small to medium-sized businesses.

Misclassification of Workers as Independent Contractors: How to Take Advantage of IRS’s New Voluntary Classification Settlement Program

Marcia Swihart Orgill

By Marcia Swihart Orgill



Both the IRS and the Department of Labor have indicated their intent to target misclassification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees. In the proposed budget for fiscal year 2012, $240 million is allocated for initiatives specifically related to enforcing this misclassification.

Employers who have misclassified workers in the past may want to consider taking part in a new program that will allow them to voluntarily correct their misclassification of workers at a relatively low cost. As part of its “fresh start initiative”, the IRS recently announced a new Voluntarily Classification Settlement Program (VCSP).

Under this program, eligible employers will only pay an amount that equals just over one percent of the wages paid to the misclassified workers in the past year, if they prospectively treat these workers as employees. The IRS will not audit employers on payroll taxes related to these workers for past years, and employers will not be subject to interest or penalties for past misclassifications.

In order to be eligible for the program the employer must:

  1. consistently have treated the workers in the past as non-employees,
  2. have filed all required Forms 1099 for the workers for the previous three years, and
  3. not currently be under audit by the IRS, the Department of Labor, or a state agency concerning the classification of these workers.

To apply for the program, an employer must file Form 8952, Application for Voluntary Classification Settlement Program, at least 60 days before it wants to commence treating the workers as employees.

Employers participating in the program will be subject to a six-year statute of limitations for the first three years under the program, rather than the three-year statute of limitations that generally applies to payroll taxes.

Information about the VCSP is contained in IRS Announcement 2011-64.

Posted by Attorney Marcia S. Orgill. Orgill concentrates her practice in the area of business and personal taxation—especially complex domestic and international tax strategies.

It’s a Great Time to Become an Urban Business Dweller

James M. Heffner

By James M. Heffner



With downtown St. Louis office vacancy now at 19%, landlords are being forced to compete aggressively and find creative ways to market their office properties.

Landlords have found they also have to create major incentives for tenants: everything from rent concessions to significant tenant improvement allowances.

If you are looking at moving your business, or if you are opening a new office, your best bet may be a move to downtown St. Louis.

Now may be a good time to be looking! Read more in this article from the St. Louis Business Journal.