Over two years ago, Section 926 of the Dodd-Frank Act called for the SEC to impose “bad actor disqualification”(sometimes referred to as “bad boy disqualification”) on Rule 506 private placements. Under the proposed rule, which is long overdue, an issuer may not rely on Rule 506 exemptionfrom registration if certain individuals or entities associated with the offering have a disqualifying event in their past, such as a violation of securities law, state regulatory order or bar, or similar infraction.
Further, the JOBS Act, enacted last year, provided for the SEC to amend Rule 506 to lift the ban on general solicitation. This rulemaking is also past due, and anxious onlookers speculate that these changes to Rule 506 will get finalized at the same time. While there have been many comments to modify some of the rule’s overbroad applications, it is uncertain if the suggested changes will happen.
Notably, there is an important exception to the disqualification provisions. If an issuer exercises “reasonable care” in making a factual inquiry but is unable to uncover the disqualifying events despite having conducted the requisite due diligence, it will not necessarily lose the ability to rely on Rule 506. Although the proposed rules do not provide bright-line tests for establishing due diligence, they clearly point that the issuer has a duty to make a factual inquiry into the existence of disqualifying events. And depending on the circumstances, representations in agreements and questionnaires may not be adequate. Searching public databases also may be required, and possibly “further steps” which have yet to be defined.
SI understands that the bad boy disqualifiers can stop an offering in its tracks immediately upon the final rule’s adoption. And no matter what the transaction, no one wants to be involved with a “bad boy.” For over a year, our proactive approach has been to include comprehensive searches of the disqualifying event elements in higher level background reports as a value-add. The very real risk that issuers could lose the Rule 506 exemption due to facts of which they are not even aware illustrates the power of effective and thorough due diligence.