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Politics and business in the lead-up to the collapse: more sordid revelations

One of the recurring annoyances for Icelandic politicians over the last few weeks has been the relentless demand by the public that they reveal who their main supporters were in their election campaigns in recent years. After all, the economic meltdown seems to have been at least partly caused by the unholy alliance of politics and business in this country, in which the entrepreneurs gradually took over the running of the country in the lead-up to the collapse.

This has been particularly difficult for certain individuals in certain parties — and it should come to no surprise to anyone who has been following Icelandic politics that most of those individuals have belonged to the Independence Party.

But not all of them. One, Steinunn Valdís Óskarsdóttir, an MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, was one of those under great pressure to publish the names of her supporters. She finally did, and it transpired that she had collected around ISK 15 million in grants in the lead-up to two primary elections, primarily from the banks [Landsbanki had the highest sum, or some ISK 3.5 million] and companies run by the banksters [e.g. Baugur Group]. Despite pressure she initially refused to resign, withdrawing into a contemptuous sort  of indignation until she could withstand the pressure no more and eventually resigned just over a week ago,”for the sake of the party”.

However, the sums she collected pale in comparison with the IP’s Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson, he of the choirboy looks and artful mannerisms. He received a grand total of ISK 24.8 million to take part in a preliminary election campaign for the IP in 2006. For weeks now, Guðlaugur Þór has been under pressure to reveal the names of his supporters, and for that same length of time he has been dithering, promising, pulling back, promising again, on and on ad infinitum, until finally he spilled the beans last Friday.

It is obvious that the revelation was cleverly orchestrated. The press release was sent out at 7.15 pm on the day that the Best Party and the Social Democrats announced that they had arrived at a coalition agreement for the Reykjavík city council [Jón Gnarr for mayor, check], when the Channel 2 news hour had just finished, and halfway through RÚV’s evening news hour. This on a night when there was no 10 o’clock news hour [unlike other weeknights] and just before the weekend. Someone’s spin doctor obviously thought they were being crafty … only RÚV read the press release anyway, despite it arriving 15 minutes into the programme.

The largest grants he received came from companies and individuals close to Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson and the Baugur Group camp, apparently because they saw him as the most likely candidate to beat out Björn Bjarnason for the top seat on the list — and the Baugur camp had a particular bone to pick with Björn. At the time he was Minister of Justice and Ecclasiastical Affairs, and there were major legal proceedings ongoing against Baugur [the so-called Baugur Affair]. In the end, Guðlaugur Þór was, indeed, victorious.

Some 40% of the grants to Guðlaugur Þór are still unaccounted for, however, as they apparently came from individuals who “requested anonymity” [that’s “óskar nafnleyndar” on this list with details of the grants] or who are deceased.

And now the public wants him out. He seems to be of no mind to go, however, and the current leader of the IP [Bjarni Benediktsson] says he’s putting no pressure on him to resign. After all, that’s not the way the cookie crumbles up at IP headquarters. Perhaps it would have been different had he been a woman: we’ve now had two female politicians resign in fairly close succession [Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir and the aforementioned Steinunn Valdís]; the men in the crowd, however, do not seem to think it’s something that applies to them. They also seem to be subject to far less bashing than the women — however, that’s another story, and the subject for another post, perhaps.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • sylvia hikins June 7, 2010, 1:14 pm

    The public must keep up the pressure for resignations under the aegis of outing sleaze. Then anti-corruption laws must go through the Althingi and be enforced. ( There’s no such thing as altruism in politics .)Only when real political cleansing has taken place will everyone begin to get some belief back in political parties and the democratic process. It’s all a messy business but Iceland isn’t alone. Most Western Democracies have difficulty standing up to scrutiny. The difference is that usually they don’t bankrupt an entire community. You probably all feel punch drunk by now, but keep the pressure going.
    sylvia from viking wirral

  • Peter Reeves June 7, 2010, 3:37 pm

    Glad to see you are pulling no punches and reporting things with a bite.
    The main problem still, is the institutionalised corruption at the banks.
    Landsbanki seems to have kept itself most in the shadows as the write
    offs to friendly parties have been coloss, and no doubt continuing.
    Maybe Icelanders will realise that after friends and family have been taken care of, the residue is simply spread – like manure – to the people.
    This amount is increasing and the banks have only one source of income to milk as hard as they can. A Greek tragedy in the truest sense…

  • Jeff Garland June 7, 2010, 7:45 pm

    WTF, is there no ethics law requiring legislators to disclose their donors? Here in Hawai’i they must do so, but aren’t required to have the information submitted until after the close of the legislative session.

    I look forward to the missive regarding “far less bashing than the women”

  • Sigvaldi Eggertsson June 7, 2010, 9:30 pm

    Jeff, it is only fairly recently that the parties started using primary elections (previously it was up to the leadership of each party to decide who should be on the ballots) and much more recently that the sums became that big, only a few years back it was possible to do most of the groundwork by using volunteers and ones family but in the last few years nothing seemed to suffice except the biggest and best advertising agencies etc.
    I think primary elections are a good way to keep the oligarchies of the parties away from the ballot lists and we must make it possible for people of limited means to participate in politics (if we outlaw the donations we are simply declaring that politics are only for the rich) but we must find a way to make the process transparent and keep everything on the table.
    As to men getting less bashing than women, it is because it is women that are doing the bashing (Agnes Bragadóttir at the Mbl is one of the most vitriolic writers in Iceland and she ensures that the leadership of the governmental parties (especially the women) is kept in the spotlight).

  • Sebastian June 7, 2010, 10:14 pm

    In Norway you have to disclose the donors as well with the exception of small donations. Politicians do not run personal campaigns, but adhere to the campaign of their party.

    The main funding source to the political parties is public money allocated based on the previous election results. Those interested can look at an overview here:

    I hope you write about the bashing of the women.

  • D_Boone June 8, 2010, 9:16 am

    Given the figures quoted here I think there is way too much money being spent by candidates especially for “primary” elections in a country of only 300,000 people. You need laws limiting donations and expenses and also laws that demand that the expenses and donations above a certain amount are disclosed.

    I realize that people can partially evade these by using Trusts and nominee companies but this is a good start.

  • alda June 8, 2010, 11:12 am

    I’m pretty sure the money isn’t just used for the candidates to print brochures and run ads. A large portion of it goes to the party — but the candidate is used as bait. Then, if everything goes tits up, the candidate is sacrificed.

  • kevin oconnor,waterford ireland June 8, 2010, 12:56 pm

    Its a man’s world sorry girls !!!

  • kevin oconnor,waterford ireland June 8, 2010, 1:24 pm

    Still at least I hope they did not waste that 24 mill on boring posters and stickers but spent it wisely on the party ie having lots of parties with Moet & Chandon, plus a vital new kitchen at home where could host the event, need a good fridge frezzer one of those huge yankee ones with 2 side by side doors to keep that champagne chilled whilst you discuss party politics with party members at your home having a great party ha ha, who said politics is boring, the independence party may not be the “Best Party” geddit ha ha, but a party none the less and from 1999- 2008 it was one heck of a party everyone had a whale of a time.