Fiorina faces battle on HP printer scandal

August 31, 2009 7:49:47 PM PDT
Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina's political aspirations have hit a bump in the road. She is being questioned about hundreds of millions of dollars worth of HP printers that were sold to Iran -- despite a U.S. ban on trade with that country.

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Fiorina has not officially announced her candidacy, but already her likely race for the U.S. Senate is running into a potential problem.

Stumping for John McCain during the New Hampshire primary, Fiorina had to introduce herself. But back home, the former Hewlett Packard CEO has much better name recognition and millions of dollars to spend on a race for Barbara Boxer's Senate seat.

"I think Boxer is vulnerable, Carly Fiorina is a big name," California Republican Party Vice-Chair Tom Del Beccaro said.

Beccaro likes Fiornia's chances, but for the past nine months reports have been surfacing about HP printers being sold to Iran, including the years when Fiorina was running the company.

Last year a HP subsidiary sold $120 million worth of equipment to a Middle Eastern distributor who sold it to Iran, in spite of a U.S. embargo. And in 1999, HP's mid east general manager was quoted as saying Iran is a big market for Hewlett Packard printers.

In 2003, Fiorina described the Middle East as a "growth region" for the company and that same year the Middle Eastern distributor reported $100 million in HP sales, adding that the seeds of its relationship with HP were sown for one market -- Iran.

Fiorina declined ABC7's request for an interview, but speaking for Fiorina, a spokesperson said, "to her knowledge, during her tenure, HP never did business in Iran and fully complied with all U.S. sanctions and laws."

ABC7 political analyst Bruce Cain says the issue poses real problems for Fiorina, particularly in the Republican primary.

"For Republicans, the Cheney hard line on enemies of America still has a lot of resonance," Cain said.

Cain says that is particularly true with the party's base that is most likely to vote in the primary where Fiorina would face Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine).

"Well I think it doesn't just resonate with the core of the party, I think it resonates with all Californians, I think there is broad support across all parties and Independents for ensuring the Islamic Republic of Iran does not have U.S. high tech equipment," DeVore said.

But Beccaro says it is too early to calculate the political damage.

"Carly's got a big name and she says she didn't know about it and I think she'll be judged on the truth of that particular statement," he said.

But if she did not know, Cain says it is still a problem because voters will wonder how any CEO could be unaware of where hundreds of millions of dollars in trade was ultimately going.

If Fiorina decides to run, it is a good bet DeVore will be hitting this issue hard in the run up to the primary.

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