Carly Fiorina is gearing up to run for president. National Journal reports she already has begun hiring staff.
Fiorina has run for office only once, as the Republican challenger to Sen. Barbara Boxer of California in 2010 -- and she lost. Still, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO won prime attention by running and losing. She's on "Meet the Press" all the time. She's still rich and still good-looking. (In 2010, Fiorina and husband Frank claimed a combined net worth of $30 million to $120 million.) Insiders think she's probably running for vice president; if Hillary Clinton is the Dems' nominee, the GOP nominee likely will be looking for a female running mate. Or maybe "she's running for enhanced fame, image and possibly the Cabinet," opined GOP consultant Kevin Spillane. "There's really no downside with her running."
So maybe it isn't totally crazy that Fiorina is running for president, even if she's never won an election. But it is totally crazy that Fiorina is running for the White House when, according to federal election reports, her 2010 campaign still owes $486,418 to creditors. Who wants a deadbeat for president?
Like the evil George Wickham in "Pride and Prejudice," Fiorina skipped California owing buckets of cash to her onetime pals. She owes $60,000 to former campaign manager Marty Wilson, who now works for the California Chamber of Commerce, and another $20,000 to his former communications firm. She shorted campaign counsel Ben Ginsberg, formerly of Patton Boggs, to the tune of $44,000. She owes $3,750 to a former press secretary, $5,000 to another communications aide and $7,500 to her erstwhile political director. She stiffed political consultant Joe Shumate, who died in 2010, to the tune of $30,000. (Yes, she stiffed a stiff -- even though she lauded Shumate as a "trusted adviser and friend" upon his death.)
Shumate put "his heart and soul into this campaign, and I would hope that Carly Fiorina would pay his widow the money that was owed him at the time of his death," fellow creditor and GOP strategist John Allan Peschong told me.
When HP fired Fiorina, she walked away with a $21 million golden handshake. But when Fiorina lost the Senate race, some of her employees didn't get a handshake. They got a finger.
In Fiorina's defense, Wilson offered that it's hard to raise money when so many Republicans already gave her the maximum donation. "The only effective way she could discharge that debt would be for her to write a personal check," Wilson added. Then again, she can afford it.
I tried to reach Fiorina through a contact person, who said she had to go through another contact person, and I never heard back from anyone. Thus, I never got an explanation as to why, according to her campaign report, Fiorina paid back to herself $1 million of the $6.8 million she had lent her campaign on the day before the election. (After the election, win or lose, a candidate cannot get back most loan money.) If Fiorina had not repaid herself that $1 mil, her campaign coffers would have had enough money to discharge all of the campaign's debts.
Maybe Fiorina felt that her consultants had let her down. Maybe Fiorina wishes that she hadn't spent $2 million on ads after the RealClearPolitics poll average showed her a point behind Boxer in October. (In November, she lost by 10 points.) Maybe Fiorina blames the people below her for depriving her of a victory she believes should have been hers. That's the best explanation I can muster for a well-heeled candidate's failure to settle campaign accounts -- and it doesn't mitigate the offense.
"There was an expectation that she wasn't going to run for office (again), so there wasn't much we could do about it," Wilson told me. He says he suggested to Fiorina that she pay creditors something "like 40 cents on the dollar." Again, no word from Fiorina, but her failure to settle with her creditors these four years speaks volumes.
Fiorina won't be the last politician to leave a trail of debt. Still, it takes a certain kind of brass to not pay off your political operatives and then set up shop to run for the highest office in the land. Wilson isn't sure who will want to work for Fiorina, but he does offer a suggestion for Fiorina 2.0: Ask for the money upfront.