Great question by Wall Street Journal editorial page assistant editor James Freeman today:
The Obama administration wants to regulate venture capital firms to prevent systemic risks. Silicon Valley residents are scratching their heads and asking: What risks? The rest of us should ask why Washington is targeting a jewel of the American economy that had nothing to do with the housing bubble.
The confusion began when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner recently told Congress that large venture capital (VC) firms should be forced to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and submit regular reports on their investors and portfolios. Data collected by the SEC would then be shared with a new risk regulator to ensure that VCs aren’t “a threat to financial stability.”
Since then, venture investors have been trying to solve the mystery of how they could possibly threaten the financial system. Their work involves very little banking. Venture firms raise equity from wealthy investors to buy ownership stakes in small companies. The VCs and the companies in which they invest use little or no debt.
“I cannot imagine any venture fund being of a size to pose ‘systemic risk,’ so they either don’t understand the nature of the business, or by including this provision they are sharing that their agenda is not the overt one disclosed,” says Jack Biddle of Novak Biddle Venture Partners. What Washington needs to understand is that bank-style regulation could destroy the culture that created the microprocessor.