House backs measures to spur capital-raising

WASHINGTON Thu Nov 3, 2011 9:46am EDT

A woman walks past the U.S. Capitol dome, seen through a porthole in nearby brick-work, in Washington, August 2, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

A woman walks past the U.S. Capitol dome, seen through a porthole in nearby brick-work, in Washington, August 2, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two bills aimed at making it easier for smaller businesses to raise capital passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday in an unusual showing of bipartisan support.

The two measures were the first of a series of legislative proposals expected to be considered this week by the House to help small businesses spur job growth by revamping federal securities laws that some say have hindered access to capital.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is separately undertaking a review of its regulations to see if they unduly restrain emerging companies' growth and whether they are still relevant as companies seek to raise capital in new ways.

The first measure, approved in a 420-2 vote, is geared toward helping community banks avoid the costly regulations that accompany financial reporting. It would raise the threshold for the number of shareholders that trigger forcing a bank to go public to 2,000 from 500.

"With the credit and lending crisis we have experienced over the past couple of years, small banks that operate in our local communities face numerous challenges just to stay afloat," said Steny Hoyer, the Democratic whip. "These are the banks we need to see lending to small businesses and homeowners but they are hamstrung in their attempt to raise capital by outdated SEC registration requirements."

The second bill passed 421-1 and would relax some antiquated securities laws by allowing the SEC to make it easier for more companies to qualify under Regulation A, that exempts small public offerings of less than $5 million in any 12-month period from costly registration requirements.

The bill would raise that threshold to $50 million.

Representative Judy Biggert, who chairs a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, said the bill will "jump-start the IPO market."

Spencer Bachus, the chairman of the full committee, predicted both bills would gain traction in the U.S. Senate.

There is some bipartisan support for relaxing the Regulation A threshold in the other chamber. Senators Jon Tester and Pat Toomey unveiled a similar measure in September. Tester is pushing for the Senate Banking Committee to hold a hearing on the bill in December.

A Senate aide said that Senate Banking Chairman Tim Johnson is considering calling a hearing, but remains undecided. The aide said Johnson wants to strike the right balance between protecting investors and providing access to capital.

Two other bills aimed at helping small business by relaxing SEC regulations are due to come before the House this week.

One would remove a regulatory ban that prevents small, privately held companies from using advertisements to solicit investors.

The other would permit "crowdfunding" - a new a capital-raising strategy that lets investors take small stakes in private start-ups over the Internet. That bill would let small businesses receive up to $2 million in capital, from investors donating no more than $10,000 each, without registering with the SEC.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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