Generally, the terms “public offering” and “private offering” have the meanings that the words imply: a public offering of securities is made to hundreds or thousands of investors who may have no connection to the company, and a private offering is made to a select group of investors known to the company or its broker. Historically, private offerings made under widely-used SEC Rule 506 (part of Regulation D) were required to be completed without the use of any “general solicitation or general advertising.” However, a provision of the federal JOBS Act, enacted in 2012, blurred the lines between private and public offerings by permitting general solicitation or advertising in Rule 506 offerings, subject to conditions imposed by the SEC. The SEC has now done its imposing, establishing rules to become effective in September 2013.
In private securities offerings where the company does not engage an investment banker who is a registered broker-dealer to market the offering to investors, companies will often seek the assistance of so-called “finders,” who are not registered as broker-dealers, to connect the company with potential investors. These finders are often paid a pre-determined percentage of the amount ultimately raised by the company from the investors introduced by the finder. Though this practice is extremely common, this area of the law is very much a gray area, and there are significant risks to both the finder and the company that should be considered.