It's now been a year since Congress, with a bipartisan display remarkable for this politically dysfunctional era, passed the JOBS Act that was touted as a breakthrough for funding entrepreneurial start-ups and thus eventually creating jobs.
Well, the entrepreneurs are still waiting for the rules that would let them proceed to launch businesses by using internet websites to gather small amounts of money from large numbers of people online.
The rules are to be written by the Securities and Exchange Commission where, despite repeated pressure from some members of Congress who really care about the issue rather than merely having voted for a JOBS bill in an election year, there's been no action.
|Rep. Cyrus Habib|
The measure Congress passed last May was officially called the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act by the clever bill drafters who attach can't-oppose names and acronyms to legislation to help ensure that balky lawmakers will find it difficult to vote against. Few lawmakers wanted to vote against JOBS in an election year.
Despite the congressionally mandated 180-day timeframe to the SEC, whose then-chair had large misgivings about the legislation, that time passed, as did a promised end-of-year date. Now the SEC has a new chairman, Mary Jo White, who has promised Congress she will make issuing the rules a priority.
If there's any doubt that there's a queuing up of entrepreneurs and those who would be involved in crowd funding, consider that the LinkedIn group "CrowdSourcing and CrowdFunding" has over 19,000 members.
Both supporters, who view the legislation as a major breakthrough for funding startups, and critics, who are convinced it's a funding disaster in the making, are awaiting the opportunity to be proven right once the rules allow the process to begin.
Tom Simpson, the long-time venture capitalist who now runs the Spokane Angel Alliance, thinks if the rules are "effectively drafted and supported, we would see large amounts of liquid capital flowing into emerging companies, in amounts even greater than during the pre-Sarbanes-Oxley, IPO glory days."
"Current regulations are chocking our nation's entrepreneurial fuel tanks," he added.
Bill Payne, generally regarded as the Dean of Angel Investors because of the role he plays in providing guidance to angel groups both in this country and internationally, sees a possibility that the regulations to be issues by the SEC "will be so restrictive that crowd funding will be viewed as not worth the effort."
not a fan
Payne, who summers in Montana and winters in the Las Vegas area and who has launched four angel-investor groups around the West, has been a critic of the crowd-funding legislation from the outlet and says "I am less excited about crowd funding now than I was when it was passed."
"My guess is that entrepreneurs' advisors have suggested they seek angel capital instead of crowd funding," added Payne, who told me for a column I did a year ago that he viewed crowd funding "as a trainwreck waiting to happen" because he felt "a lot of investors will get scammed."
An issue that may further delay SEC action, and provide an added challenge for the internet masses to begin buying shares in companies via the Internet, is the potential sales tax liability in a crowd-funding project.
The U.S. Senate this week approved giving the 45 states that currently charge sales taxes the right to require large online retailers to collect tax on purchases made by their residents. The legislation must still clear the House, but political observers give it a good chance for passage and while it would only apply to online sellers that have sales of at least $1 million in states where they don't have physical operations, the SEC may decide to wait final determination on the bill.
Habib's bill would impose an excise tax of somewhere between 3 and 5 percent on investors, which Habib explains as necessary to cover costs the state would incur in things like more consumer protection for investors and added costs for state oversight of the crowd-funding activity.
"We can't go to the legislature in this financial environment ask for legislation to try something new and not cover the fiscal impact," habib added.
Rep. Frank Morris, D-Mount Vernon, who filed the other Washington state bill (HB2054)also a Democrat, said the state proposal is important regardless of SEC rules.
|Rep. Frank Morris|
"The federal crowdfunding law, even once rules are in place, is going to require companies to work through an intermediary and is likely to have compliance costs that are cost-prohibitive for many start-ups," Morris said.
"The intent of the state legislation is to facilitate crowdfunding for Washington investors in Washington companies, with regulation that is protective of consumers, but less cost-prohibitive."
Bill Beatty, Securities Administrator for the state Department of Financial Institutions, points out that any offerings under state legislation would be "intrastate only, that is, limited to Washington Companies offering to Washington investors," adding such legislation at the state level doesn't require SEC approval.
Meanwhile, interest on the part of entrepreneurs and businesses that hope to be a part of the process continues to grow.
A business called Crowdfund Productions LLC is putting on Pro and Contra Conferences around the West, including one last week and Denver.
A Pro and Contra Conference is schedule for Seattle in September, by which time the SEC rules may be out, opening the door for a lot more pros and cons to be aimed by entrepreneurs and support groups.
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