She’s novel in one important way: As the only woman likely to run for president as a Republican, Carly Fiorina, who officially announced her candidacy Monday, is the GOP’s counterweight to Hillary Clinton. Plus, as the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) she has more business experience than Clinton and many of the Republicans she’ll be running against. If she doesn’t win the Republican nomination, Fiorina could end up as a vice-presidential running mate or a cabinet pick should the GOP take the White House in 2016.
But Fiorina faced funding challenges when she ran for the Senate in California in 2010, losing big to the incumbent, Democrat Barbara Boxer. And she could face the same problem as a presidential candidate in a crowded GOP field where some of the biggest donors have already chosen favorites. “We have to live off the earth a little bit,” says Steve DeMaura, executive director of Carly for America, a new super PAC affiliated with her campaign. “You won’t see our team load up on high-priced consultants. The average age of our staff will probably be a lot younger.”
Fiorina raised a respectable $22 million in 2010, but Boxer raised more than $29 million. And a big chunk of Fiorina’s funding came not from natural constituents who backed her from the beginning, but from national interest groups that got involved relatively late in the campaign, hoping to flip a Senate seat over to the Republican column.
Fiorina also ended the 2010 race with $500,000 in campaign debt, which she didn’t fully repay until this year, irking former staffers and GOP contractors who waited nearly 5 years to get paid. The San Francisco Chronicle recently called Fiorina the “deadbeat presidential candidate.”
There aren’t yet any public donor filings for Carly for America, the super PAC that can accept donations of unlimited size and spend major sums to help the candidate. So it’s not clear yet who her biggest backers will be. There are records, however, for Fiorina’s 2010 Senate campaign and for another super PAC she formed last year, called Unlocking Potential. That group raised about $1.9 million in 2014 and spent most of it on behalf of Republican Senate candidates such as Joni Ernst of Iowa and Cory Gardner of Colorado (both won).
Fiorina's past donors won’t necessarily stick with her in the presidential race, since this time they have many other Republicans to choose from. But her past supporters indicate the types of donors likely to back her, and the issues they care about. Here are 10 of the most notable sources of Fiorina’s political money:
Carly Fiorina. That’s right, the candidate contributed generously to herself in 2010, spending $5.8 million of her own money and loaning her campaign another $1 million, which the campaign paid back. Fiorina and her husband Frank are wealthy, with their net worth in 2010 ranging between $30 million and $120 million, according to public disclosure forms. Still, that’s not nearly enough to fund a presidential race, which could ultimately require close to $1 billion.
Mike and Sydney Murphy of El Dorado, Ark. The Murphys, associated with the family-run energy firm Marmik Oil, donated $1 million to Unlocking Potential, the super PAC Fiorina started last year. The super PAC, in turn, spent about $1.7 million in 2014 on behalf of Republican Senate candidates such as Joni Ernst of Iowa and Cory Gardner of Colorado (both won). Unlocking Potential also spent money trying to defeat Democratic Senate candidates, such as Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire (who also won).
Paul Singer, founder of hedge fund Elliott Management. Singer, a billionaire who’s become one of the biggest Republican donors, gave $100,000 to Fiorina’s super PAC in 2014. He also supports Marco Rubio, so he’s not guaranteed to be in Fiorina’s corner during the presidential election.
Charles Snowden Jones, founder of Bedford Funding, a New York investing firm. Like Singer, Jones gave $100,000 to Fiorina’s super PAC, Unlocking Potential.
Wall Street banks. In addition to hedge funds and non-bank investing firms, traditional banks, including Morgan Stanley, Societe General, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo were among Fiorina’s top 20 donors in 2010. The contributions came from individuals at those banks—not from the corporate entities—with about one-third of the donors residing in the New York City area, even though Fiorina was running in California.
Murray Energy. This Ohio-based coal-mining company has no operations in California, but CEO Robert Murray strongly opposes Ohio clean-air regulations and even clashed publicly with Fiorina’s opponent Boxer, a strong advocate of tougher anti-pollution rules. Employees of Murray’s firm donated more than $41,000 to Fiorina’s 2010 campaign in a failed effort to send Boxer packing.
Linda McMahon, former CEO of WWE. McMahon, a Republican who ran for the Senate herself in 2012 (and lost) gave $50,000 to the Unlocking Potential super PAC in 2014.
Oaktree Capital Management, a Los Angeles-based investing firm. Co-founders Howard Marks and Bruce Karsh led the fundraising, with Oaktree employees contributing $40,600 to Fiorina’s 2010 Senate run. Cynthia Stone, the wife of Oaktree portfolio manager Sheldon Stone, gave another $75,000 to Fiorina’s super PAC in 2014.
Ken Griffin, CEO of Citadel, the huge Chicago-based hedge fund. Griffin gave $50,000 to the Unlocking Potential super PAC in 2014. He’s not listed as a donor to Fiorina’s 2010 campaign.
T. Boone Pickens. The famed Dallas oilman gave $25,000 to Fiorina’s super PAC in 2014, making him another big donor to come aboard lately. Pickens contributes to various Republicans and last year gave $100,000 to a super PAC that supports former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who is also considering running for president as a Republican. Even among donors, this year’s candidates face tough competition.
Rick Newman’s latest book is Liberty for All: A Manifesto for Reclaiming Financial and Political Freedom. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.