James Moore: It's a fair bet political donations won't help

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The Independent Online

Outlook What? Betfair indulging in the sort of practices even the most hidebound company bosses quietly dropped years ago, such as showering money on politicians? Surely not. It's a responsible gambling company whose stated policy is not to make political donations.

Except that, funnily enough, Betfair asked its shareholders for permission to do just that before yesterday's annual meeting. Nothing exceeding £50,000, it's true. But the trouble is, that puts it on a very slippery slope. And Pirc, the governance consultancy, says the company did indeed make a donation to an EU party it deemed to be political during the past year. Pirc's advice to oppose the request was followed by 30 per cent of Betfair shareholders.

Betfair is a controversial company for all sorts of reasons. It allows ordinary punters to act as bookies by "laying" horses to lose. People who do this using its service aren't subject to the taxes or regulation that registered bookmakers face. Many overseas regulators remain wary of it. So for Betfair, using its resources to make friends and influence people might appear to be tempting.

It's also foolish, as most forward-thinking companies (and even most backward-thinking ones that aren't American) realised some time ago. Such donations not only look fishy; in democracies they create resentment when candidates you've opposed get elected.

Most of the shareholders who opposed the motion backed the election of Breon Corcoran as chief executive. He'd do well to listen to them and drop it from next year's annual meeting.