An Overview Of Securities Laws In South Carolina

What Are Securities Laws & Why Are These Laws Relevant?

Securities laws play a pivotal role in the financial and legal landscape, especially for businesses looking to raise capital from third parties. These laws are designed to regulate the offer and sale of securities, ensuring transparency, fairness, and investor protection in the financial markets. Understanding the essentials of securities laws is crucial for any business considering capital raising through the issuance of securities.

Securities laws encompass a range of federal and state regulations that govern the sale and distribution of financial instruments, known as securities. These can include stocks, bonds, limited partnership interests, and various other investment products. The cornerstone of U.S. securities laws is the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The 1933 Act primarily focuses on the initial sale of securities to the public, requiring issuers to provide detailed disclosures about their financial condition, the securities being offered, and any associated risks. The 1934 Act regulates the secondary trading of those securities, establishing rules for ongoing disclosures, transactions, reporting, and market transparency.

Relevance in Raising Capital:

When businesses raise capital by selling equity or debt securities to third-party investors, they engage in activities regulated by securities laws. The core purpose of these laws is to protect investors from fraud and to ensure that they have access to all material information needed to make informed investment decisions. This involves detailed disclosure of the company’s financial health, business model, market risks, and the specifics of the securities being offered.

Securities laws also define the process for registering securities with regulatory bodies such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or relevant state authorities, such as the South Carolina Securities Law Division. However, there are exemptions from registration, often used by small businesses and startups, known as private placements. These exemptions allow companies to raise capital from a limited number of accredited investors without the need for full public disclosure, subject to certain conditions.

Importance of Compliance:

Compliance with securities laws is not optional; it is a legal requirement. Non-compliance can lead to severe consequences, including legal actions against the company and its officers, substantial fines, and reputational damage. Therefore, businesses must carefully navigate these regulations, often with the guidance of legal professionals, to ensure they adhere to all necessary disclosure and reporting requirements.

Securities as Defined by Law:

Navigating the complexities of securities laws is often a challenge for entrepreneurs and new business owners looking to raise capital through the issuance of securities like corporate shares, limited partnership interests, or LLC membership interests. Both federal and state governments treat these as securities, and while there are exemptions for small businesses, understanding and complying with these laws is essential.

Securities include various forms of ownership interests in a company, such as shares in a corporation, limited partnership interests, and even certain types of LLC memberships. Both federal and state governments have specific regulations governing the offering and sale of these securities.

Exemptions for Small Businesses:

Small businesses may benefit from exemptions that allow them to offer interests to a limited number of investors without adhering to the full spectrum of securities laws. These exemptions are designed to facilitate easier access to capital for small businesses while still providing some level of protection to investors. However, exemptions to disclosure rules do not mean a relaxation of standards when it comes to the accuracy and completeness of information provided to investors. Here are some of the key types of securities law exemptions available, each tailored to specific circumstances and needs:

Regulation D Offerings:

  • Rule 504: Under Rule 504 of Regulation D, small businesses can raise up to $5 million in a 12-month period. It’s a popular choice for smaller, non-reporting companies. This rule allows companies to sell securities without having to register with the SEC, although they must still comply with state securities laws.
  • Rule 506(b): This rule permits an unlimited amount of capital raising without SEC registration. It allows sales to an unlimited number of accredited investors and up to 35 other purchasers. Unlike Rule 506(c), Rule 506(b) doesn’t require the verification of accredited investor status, but it prohibits general solicitation and advertising.
  • Rule 506(c): Similar to Rule 506(b), this rule permits raising an unlimited amount of money but mandates that all investors must be accredited, and the issuer must take reasonable steps to verify their accredited status. It allows general solicitation and advertising.

Regulation A Offerings (Reg A+):

  • Tier 1: Under Tier 1 of Reg A+, companies can raise up to $20 million in a 12-month period. This option requires companies to file an offering statement with the SEC and get it qualified, and they must also comply with state securities laws.
  • Tier 2: Tier 2 allows companies to raise up to $75 million within 12 months. It has more stringent disclosure requirements than Tier 1, including audited financial statements, but it preempts state registration requirements for securities offered or sold to “qualified purchasers.”

Crowdfunding (Regulation Crowdfunding):

  • Regulation Crowdfunding allows companies to raise up to $5 million in a 12-month period through online crowdfunding platforms. Issuers must provide certain information to the SEC, investors, and the crowdfunding platform, including financial statements and descriptions of the business, use of proceeds, and ownership structure.

Intrastate Offering Exemptions:

  • Section 3(a)(11) of the Securities Act: This exemption allows for securities offerings that are confined to a single state, exempting them from federal registration if the company is incorporated and doing a significant amount of its business in that state, and if investors are also residents of the state.
  • Rule 147 and Rule 147A: These are safe harbors under Section 3(a)(11). Rule 147 requires the company to be organized in the state where the offering is made, while Rule 147A is more flexible, allowing companies incorporated out-of-state but conducting a significant amount of their business within the offering state.

The Importance of Full Disclosure:

Even with exemptions, it’s crucial for businesses to fully disclose relevant information to potential investors, allowing them to make well-informed decisions. This transparency helps in avoiding allegations of misleading assurances or misrepresentations. Securities laws are intricate, and non-compliance can lead to severe consequences, including criminal, civil, and administrative actions.

Overview of Securities Laws:

Businesses in South Carolina looking to raise capital by issuing securities must adhere to both federal and South Carolina securities laws. These laws establish a rigorous and technical regulatory framework. However, navigating these laws can be challenging as federal and state securities regulations may not always align. Compliance with federal securities laws, for instance, does not guarantee compliance with South Carolina’s securities laws. Additionally, businesses operating in multiple states may need to comply with each state’s unique securities regulations.

Uniform Securities Act in South Carolina:

In South Carolina, the Uniform Securities Act governs securities laws and investments. This Act encompasses a wide range of provisions, including exemptions, securities registration requirements, notice filings for federal-covered securities, and provisions addressing fraudulent activities. It also outlines judicial review processes, enforcement mechanisms, remedies, liabilities, and penalties. Non-compliance with both the Uniform Securities Act and the federal Securities Act of 1933, as well as regulations under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, can result in a variety of legal actions.

No Exemptions for Friends and Family:

It is important to note that neither federal nor state securities laws offer specific exemptions for transactions involving friends and family. This means that even these types of transactions need to be scrutinized for compliance with relevant securities laws.

Conclusion:

Due to the complexity and seriousness of securities law compliance, our South Carolina business attorneys strongly advise clients to err on the side of caution regarding securities and disclosures. Seeking professional legal advice can help navigate these intricate laws, ensuring that your business’s capital-raising efforts are both successful and legally compliant. Our team is dedicated to providing the guidance and expertise needed to safely and effectively navigate the securities landscape.