Carly Fiorina’s $4 Billion Job Scam at Hewlett-Packard

As CEO, she lobbied for a tax holiday on corporate profits to create jobs. Instead, the money was used to buy back stock while HP fired 14,500 workers.

09.23.15 5:13 AM ET

Had Donald Trump been talking about Carly Fiorina’s essence rather than her appearance, he might have had a point.

Not that it should matter one way or the other, Fiorina has an altogether pleasant physical presence, markedly more so than does Trump.

But a blind person could see that Fiorina was the very face of corporate greed and income inequality during her five-year tenure as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Take, for example, the cynically named Homeland Investment Act of 2004. The bill was passed as part of the equally cynically named American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 after intense lobbying with Hewlett-Packard in the forefront.

The purported aim of the legislation was to generate economic growth and therefore jobs at home by according corporations a one year “tax holiday” on billions in overseas profits they had stashed offshore.

The result was a $265 billion corporate giveaway.

The windfall was supposed to go toward research and development, and other job-creating endeavors.

Instead, almost all of it was put into stock buybacks as a way of funneling cash to stockholders, these prominently including CEOs.

Never mind that the bill prohibited such buybacks.

And all that talk about putting more Americans to work did not stop the corporations from cutting as many as 100,000 American jobs in the name of even greater profits.

Hewlett-Packard saved more than $4.3 billion and put more than $4 billion into stock buybacks. It laid off 14,500 workers.

To make it all even uglier, Hewlett-Packard lobbied for the Homeland Investment Act as a member of something called the Homeland Investment Coalition—this at a time when the “war on terror” was intensifying and the word “Homeland” made everyone think of national security.

The Department of Homeland Security had been founded in 2002. We had invaded Iraq in March 2003. And there was Fiorina sixteen months later, party to using “Homeland” to hustle the government out of billions with false promises of new jobs.

That may not be treason, but it is close enough to turn the stomach, coming in the midst of our longest war, when some of our very best young people were returning home in coffins.

And it is no less ugly because numerous other corporations were part of the scam, these including fellow tech outfits such as Microsoft and Apple, as well as pharma giants such as Pfizer and Merck.

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What does make Fiorina worse than the other CEOs who pushed The Homeland Hustle is her appearance at this month’s Republican debate, during which she called for a $500 billion-plus boost in military spending.

“We need the strongest military on the face of the planet, and everyone has to know it,” said this erstwhile instigator of a wartime con.

One current presidential candidate who cannot take Fiorina to task is Hillary Clinton, who voted for the bill when she was in the Senate. Clinton did so when even the Bush administration saw through the scam and opposed the legislation. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers warned that the bill “would not produce any substantial economic benefits.”

“There will be some stimulative effect because it pumps money into the economy,” Phillip Swagel, former chief of staff of the council, has been quoted as saying. “But you might as well have taken a helicopter over 90210 [Beverly Hills] and pushed the money out the door. That would have stimulated the economy as well.”

Bush ended up signing the bill just two weeks before the 2004 election. The resulting tax holiday reduced the rate on returning overseas profits from 35 percent to 5.25 percent. The biggest winners were Pfizer, which brought back $37 billion while eliminating 10,000 jobs, and Merck, which brought back $15.9 billion while eliminating 7,000 jobs.

Hewlett-Packard came in third moneywise, repatriating $14.5 billion. But it seems to have topped all the others in job cuts, besting—or rather worsting—Pfizer by 4,500.

In a twist, one of the Hewlett-Packard folks who lost her job in 2005 was Fiorina herself when she was fired as CEO. That meant she was forced out even as the scam she made possible was carried out.

This particular cut actually cost the company. She departed with a $21 million severance package.

But that does not seem so excessive when you consider that Hewlett-Packard and the rest of the Homeland Investment Coalition engineered a multibillion-dollar fast one during her tenure.

A University of Kansas study estimated that in this particular instance, every dollar spent on lobbying translated into an average of $220 in tax savings for the companies involved. That was a 22,000 percent return, and considerably more when it came to Hewlett-Packard.

Now Fiorina is running for president, declaring that we need to spend billions upon billions more on the military. Her campaign did not return a request for comment on her part in the shameful Homeland Hustle.