Fiorina’s Deadbeat Campaign

Snakes alive, the negative resume of Carly Fiorina gets bigger and badder every day. On the same day that Wall Street veteran (and long-time Democratic operative) Steve Rattner argues in the New York Times that Fiorina’s record as CEO at HP is even worse than previously assumed, WaPo’s Robert Samuels looks at an aspect of her failed 2010 Senate race that hasn’t gotten much scrutiny: it still owes people money.

Fiorina has emerged in recent weeks as a top-tier candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, impressing voters with a pair of crisp debate performances and a promise to put her bottom-line inclination as a Fortune 50 chief executive to fix a broken Washington.

But that fiscal sensibility was largely absent from Fiorina’s other run for office — a quixotic and unsuccessful attempt to unseat longtime Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

In more than two dozen interviews, staff members, friends, contractors and operatives who worked on Fiorina’s 2010 campaign singled out one big problem: how the team managed its cash.

Many said Fiorina spent too much on television ads with narrow appeal, while others said she was an anemic fundraiser who did not keep close enough tabs on her coffers. There also were concerns that some events were too lavish…..

Well, too lavish for the campaign’s accounts payable system, anyway.

Those who waited the longest to be paid were small businesses with a few dozen employees who did the grunt work of the campaign: building stages, sending out mailers, selling polling data. And at least one is still waiting.

Jon Seaton, the managing partner of East Meridian Strategies, confirmed that his group billed Fiorina’s campaign for $18,000 on Oct. 6, 2010, for printing 21,290 mailers.

Six weeks went by and nothing came. So Seaton asked again. Then again. As of last week, he said he was still waiting.

Jan van Lohuizen, whose small firm did surveys for Fiorina, said he wasn’t paid the $7,500 he was owed until this year. Van Lohuizen said he assumed Fiorina was running for Senate again because her campaign reached out to settle up days after Boxer announced she was retiring.

“Turns out my instinct was right, but I got [the] office wrong,” van Lohuizen said.

Fiorina’s campaign did manage to pay her back the $1.3 million she loaned it, presumably derived from the estimated $100 million she earned from HP as CEO or ex-CEO.

Samuels notes that campaigns–especially losing campaigns–often struggle to pay their bills, noting that it took Hillary Clinton years to clear the books for her 2008 campaign. But if I recall correctly, the bulk of HRC’s campaign debt was in payments to her pollster and “chief strategist,” Mark Penn, who by most accounts was probably overcompensated significantly for the value he delivered to that campaign. Plus you get the distinct impression from Samuels that Fiorina never felt responsible for the debts her campaign racked up, at least until she decided to run for president. Seems that irresponsibility was a hallmark of her campaign:

“People are just upset and angry and throwing her under the bus,” said Jon Cross, Fiorina’s operations director for her Senate campaign. “If we didn’t win, why do you deserve to get paid? If you don’t succeed in business, you shouldn’t be the first one to step up and complain about getting paid.”

Don’t think that’s the way debt works, Mr. Cross. You don’t get to write it off without a bankruptcy proceeding just because you fail and blame your creditors for failing as well.

But hey, maybe it doesn’t matter:

Her supporters cautioned that little could be gleaned from her California campaign. They maintain that Fiorina’s corporate experience is more akin to managing a presidential campaign than a bid for office in one of the nation’s most liberal states.

That’s right! Let’s focus on HP! Oh, wait….

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.