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On Your Side: Record fundraising, top donors in Birmingham mayor’s race

Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 5:10 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Fundraising is the lifeblood of every campaign.

“The reason that you do it is to have money to get your message out to the people,” explained David Mowery, of Mowery Consulting. “Ads cost money, printing things cost money, even yard signs - they all cost money.”

By the time you head to the polls to elect Birmingham’s next mayor, donors will have forked out millions to their candidate of choice. Despite the need for contributions, it matters who writes the checks.

“You do want to consider if the donors or the organizations that are buying someone are aligning with your values,” Mowery added. “There are certain types of organizations that you probably wouldn’t want to see people taking money from, and that’s whether you’re on the left or the right.”

Mowery runs campaigns on all levels of government and knows what it takes to cross the finish line in a crowded field.

“I think that you can benchmark it and you could run a serious race for mayor of any of the four major cities in Alabama for somewhere around half a million dollars,” he stated.

So far only one candidate’s hit that fundraising threshold. Randall Woodfin’s campaign has raised $1.65 million in cash contributions, the highest ever in a Birmingham mayor’s race according to his campaign. He’s followed by William Bell who’s raised $135,035, LaShunda Scales with $144,376 in cash contributions and Chris Woods who’s brought in $94,380.

“Raising a lot of money isn’t always nefarious,” Mowery argued. “It’s probably a good sign that somebody can attract that type of money because it means that they’re the type of leader that people want to see. There’s an old adage in politics, and that is that I’d rather have a million bucks and explain how I got it, then not have a million bucks.”

Other candidates are taking a different route. Cerissa Brown’s raised nearly $6,000, the lion’s share her own dollars seeded as donations. Candidate Philemon Hill’s raised nearly $3,000. Darryl WIlliams prides himself on not asking for donations to keep his campaign transparent. He’s taken out $3,000 in personal loans to run his campaign.

Despite a candidate’s position on fundraising, it takes money to meet voters where they are through online targeted ads, mail campaigns and broadcast ads. Mowery believes it’s possible to still fundraise while limiting financial influence.

“There’s ways to raise money from smaller dollar donors and you know you don’t owe anybody but the citizens a dime,” Mowery added. “You can say that you’re not going take corporate money - you’re only going to take personal money. Jerry Brown ran for President of the United States and said he wasn’t going take more than 100 dollars from anybody and came in second and a couple primaries.”

2021 Birmingham mayoral candidates fundraising efforts one week before the election.
2021 Birmingham mayoral candidates fundraising efforts one week before the election.(WBRC)

There’s no donor limit in this race. Woodfin’s top donors are a mix of personal and business contributors. Political Action Committee funds, or PAC funds account for $125,000 of his overall contributions donations.

2021 Birmingham mayoral candidates fundraising efforts one week before the election.
2021 Birmingham mayoral candidates fundraising efforts one week before the election.(WBRC)

Bell’s top donors include David Shelby and Triangle Partners LLC. He’s received nearly $15,000 in PAC money.

2021 Birmingham mayoral candidates fundraising efforts one week before the election.
2021 Birmingham mayoral candidates fundraising efforts one week before the election.(WBRC)

LaShunda Scales’ highest donor tops out at nearly $18,000 with $7,000 in PAC contributions. She’s received the highest amount of in kind donations. The Restore Birmingham PAC spent nearly six figures on her campaign expenses.

2021 Birmingham mayoral candidates fundraising efforts one week before the election.
2021 Birmingham mayoral candidates fundraising efforts one week before the election.(WBRC)

Chris Woods received more than $30,000 from the Alabama Development PAC. Woods supplemented his campaign by loaning more than $50,000 dollars of his own money along with more than $40,000 in personal loans from Bruce Pettway, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s brother.

“You want to know who is behind the people that you are electing and sometimes that’s a positive thing, sometimes there are forces for good in your community,” Mowery acknowledged. “Sometimes you might see guys that have a development that they want done and they’re cutting big checks and then you kind of look at it and know why.”

After going through the financials, Mowery encourages voters to make a final consideration.

“Judge the mayor and the other candidates by the quality of life that you have in the City of Birmingham,” he stated. “It’s the old Ronald Reagan thing, are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

The Birmingham Mayoral election is slated for August 24, if a runoff is needed it will be held October 5. Other offices are also up for election, including city council and school board. Click here for a sample ballot.

*The campaign totals reported in this story were collected after the August 13 weekly filing deadline and may not be reflective of the current campaign fundraising amounts filed with the Jefferson County Probate Office. The public can access these reports free of charge here.

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