In My Opinion

Dita De Boni is a Herald business columnist

Dita De Boni: Investors' cash on the table

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When SkyCity hands out money to politicians, what's in it for the shareholders?

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

I have to say that if I was a SkyCity shareholder, right at the moment I'd be a bit annoyed.

The company has had a good old media drubbing in the past few months, revealing itself to be a gladhander, a flashy, gold-toothed wideboy and a scoundrel in its propensity to become enmeshed in ethical debates through cackhanded attempts to curry favour with politicians and celebrities.

Now, were I a shareholder, it may not bother me one jot that I was supporting gambling, a "vice"; that stags and hens, addicts and the less privileged members of the citizenry are largely funding my dividend cheque. I might take the view that all of the above are generally adults, capable of making their own decisions.

What they do is perfectly legal, even if sometimes harmful to those around them. Heck, by the same token I might even unapologetically have shares in Asia Pacific Breweries (owners of DB, parent company of the brewery that promotes its wares with those lovely Tui girls), or Woolworths (owner of Progressive Enterprises, seller of cheap liquor by the pallet load).

But even if I were a social libertarian, it might just irk me that the company with which I hope to grow old and prosper, is leaping into bed with the glamerati of New Zealand (and Len Brown), seemingly without discernment.

For one thing, the convention centre deal. Well and good that casino management has the ear of the Prime Minister. But for the price of, say, 500 extra pokie machines, SkyCity now looks utterly compromised. The fact that it gives back a very small percentage of its takings to help negate some of the misery of its hard-core punters is there for all to see. Its convention centre mathematics are being questioned and its relationship with John Key is under intense scrutiny.

Then comes the revelation that the casino donated $15,000 apiece to both Auckland mayoral candidates in 2010.

As a SkyCity shareholder, I'd be moved to wonder why they bothered. For one thing, John Banks was consistently behind in the polls and had often damned gambling to hell and back. He also, make no bones about it, didn't come down the river yesterday on a cabbage boat.

Len Brown is another who had previously railed against pokies in South Auckland, but is now a hair's breadth away from donning his mayoral chains and cutting a big shiny ribbon on a new convention centre, and finds the argument a bit more complicated.

Ultimately, no one comes out of this looking particularly good.

The New Zealand Shareholders Association says a contribution to political entities by public companies is an inappropriate use of shareholders' funds.

In the US, a pitched battle is being fought between shareholders, who want their companies to come clean about who they support politically, and a group of big- spending corporates who have formed a group called ALEC (standing for American Legislative Exchange Committee) to fight efforts to make them open up about their allegiances.

It is estimated that in nine states the group spent almost US$17 million in one year shaping legislation on issues including gay marriage, abortion and gun rights. Little of which was ever signposted to shareholders.

Here, in New Zealand, we have become hung up on the issue of transparency for the public - who our pollies are doing deals with and why. Of course we should. But shareholders, as actual owners of companies, might have a better chance of peeling back the layers of corporate beneficence to our impoverished elected officials and celebrities and getting to the heart of some of the more murky relationships. The results may prove even more shocking than what has been revealed already.

* Illustration by Anna Crichton: illustrator@annacrichton.com

- NZ Herald

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