After mayor didn't hire him, tech-savvy fundraiser led Randall Woodfin's surprising money machine

Monday, 09 October 2017, 07:37:54 PM. Chris Barrineau wanted to help William Bell win re-election, but the mayor didn't hire him. Instead, Randall Woodfin reaped the benefit of the man the mayor-elect calls 'the best fundraiser in the state.'

Chris Barrineau was already respected throughout the state as savvy political operative and fund-raiser; he worked on several campaigns for former U.S. Congressman Robert "Bud" Cramer of Huntsville, as well as other candidates.

But the Mobile native always wanted to work on a Birmingham mayoral campaign, so early this year be reached out to incumbent William A. Bell, who was running for re-election after serving as mayor since 2010.

The two men met.

Barrineau had watched incumbent mayors in cities across the state--from Selma to Vestavia--get ousted by younger or simply fresher challengers, and he gave Bell an honest assessment of the landscape ahead.

"I said, 'Look, mayor, there a lot of civil unrest out there. It's gonna take a lot of money to win and I'd like to help you with that.' I liked what he was doing."
Yet Bell never returned numerous calls, Barrineau says.

"I thought the mayor would hire me," he says. "I don't know why he didn't."

At that juncture, in February, Chris Barrineau had never heard of Randall Woodfin.
"I asked someone, 'Who's the other candidate?" he recalls.

Not quite a millennial

At 44, Barrineau would be considered the grown-up in a room of millennials. Or maybe big brother. Yet his fund-raising acumen is rooted in technology, specifically the intersection of technology, the Internet, data and good, old-fashioned hard work: dialing thousands of telephone numbers and knocking on thousands of doors.

When he walked into Cramer's campaign headquarters in 1998, Barrineau quickly realized he was the only one there who knew how to operate a computer.

Nearly two decades later, however, he found in Woodfin, a true child of the digital age, a kindred spirit.

"I'd looked at his campaign report and saw that he'd raised $40,000 to that point, all from small donors," Barrineau says. "That impressed me. I knew there was something there I could use. I didn't know if he had a shot or not, but I thought, 'Why not?' He'd have a real chance if I raised a certain amount of money.

"I just had a hunch."

On the other side of the table, Woodfin, the still-long-shot challenger, was impressed, as well.

"He struck me as capable, trustworthy and a cool communicator," Woodfin says.
Soon thereafter, Barrineau became Finance Director of the Campaign to Elect Randall Woodfin.

Barrineau didn't really have a plan when he graduated from the University of Alabama in 1998 with a communications degree. While in college, his mother, a special education teacher, died of cancer. She was 43 years old.

"It was really awful," he says. "At 44, I've now outlived her. It was really horrible."
She left him with a $20,000 inheritance and a passion for education. He had no specific plan, other than to "go and change the world."

One day he saw then-Lieutenant Governor Don Siegelman on television saying he was running for Governor, in part, to "turn around" education in Alabama.
"That hit close to my heart," Barrineau says.

So, the young man went to Montgomery, donned the only suit he owned and marched into Siegelman's campaign headquarters. "I wanted to do policy and volunteer," he says

He was so sure he'd get hired he got an apartment.

But like his encounter years later with Bell, Barrineau's confidence was misplaced.
"A lady walked to the door where I was sitting, spoke to me briefly and said she'd give me a callback," he recalls. "I never got one."

Finally, a job!

Before going to college, Barrineau's family had moved to Huntsville, so he returned there and was connected to the Cramer campaign. After seeing his computer proficiency, they hired him at $900 per month.

"I thought, 'This is fantastic!'"

Most candidates will tell you campaigning is hard work, pure and simple. Fundraising? Even more--specifically at the big-city and state levels.

"There is no glamour behind fundraising," Barrineau says. "You have thousands of call sheet, and call random people. It is grinding work."

Cramer's office still used paper calls sheets, but Barrineau "knew there was a better way to do it."

Utilizing his computer skills, Barrineau built a database of telephone numbers from the call sheets, then took computer classes at the University of Alabama and gained new insight on combining old- and new-school strategies and technology (the Internet, email, etc.) while working with Cunningham Harris and Associates, national fundraising consultants basing in Kentucky.

"I had a centralized database where people who had gone to the web to make contributions were input and we built on that," he said. "Any literature or emails we went out took people back to the donor areas and website."

It all came together in a multi-platform strategy that found a receptive ear in Woodfin.

Far away from Birmingham

after-mayor-didnt-hire-him-techsavvy-fundraiser-led-randall-woodfins-surprising-money-machine photo 1Barrineau with his daughters (and their pet  pig) on their Prattville farm 

Barrineau lives on a farm on 300-acres on the "outskirts" of Prattville, on land owned by his wife's family. They have two daughters--ages six and three--as well as a donkey that wandered onto the property, two rescue horses, and a pet pig, also a rescue. An old tractor sits in the front yard of the two-bedroom, 1-bathroom "old shack" in which the family resides.

Yet he didn't have to traverse the 80+ miles between Prattville and Birmingham very often. Not in this age, and not with a candidate comfortable with technology and a fund-raising ethic that had already achieved a modicum of success.

Woodfin could remotely dial into the database Barrineau constructed for the campaign. The candidate then had two cell phones: one for making calls, the other allowing Barrineau to send him text messages with information about the next caller.

"He could answer with, 'Hey, John, this is one of your Morehouse brothers.' We did this over and over and over and over ..."

We'll get back to those Morehouse "brothers."

Woodfin's initial notion of asking donors to contribute $18.71 per month (based on 1871, the year Birmingham was founded) struck a chord his millennial peers and others, and was at the core of his ability to raise, according to campaign finance reports, an average of $12,697 during the first seven months of his campaign--before Barrineau was hired.

The new finance director achieved some initial success. The average monthly intake almost doubled-- to $24,207--in March, April and May.

Birmingham's business leaders were not on board

The giving was still in small amounts, Barrineau says--five, 15, 25-dollar contributions, some 100-dollars, mostly from millennials. And Woodfin was gaining no traction from most of the Birmingham business community, which, of course, was solidly lined up behind the incumbent.

Call it: self-preservation.

"A lot of traditional givers in the Birmingham area, they didn't want anything to do with Randall Woodfin," Barrineau says.

Perhaps because major contributions are public and they knew the Bell campaign might not look lightly upon them offering favor to the enemy.

One respected business family did break ranks, as it were. Former EBSCO CEO F. Dixon Brooke, Jr. and his wife provided the largest single contribution to the campaign: $5,000.

"The mayor called him and asked him why he did it," Barrineau says. "They were just genuine people and they said they wanted to see a change."

But as my AL.com colleague Erin Edgemon recently revealed, Woodfin's ultimate fundraising success was mostly due to the alumni network of his alma mater, Morehouse College in Atlanta, where the candidate once served in the prestigious role of Student Government Association president.

Woodfin's Morehouse connection changes the money game

Woodfin was a sophomore when Bakari Sellers arrived on campus as a freshman. "[Randall] was of course there early," says Sellers, now an attorney, former South Carolina state Representative and CNN political commentator. "He was probably the only person there who was frailer than me. But he was a mover and shaker and all the upperclassmen respected him.

"At Morehouse, the political culture is a bit different: Being SGA president is the equivalent of being the star quarterback on most campuses," Sellers added. "And Randell Woodfin was going to be SGA president."

The turning point

Around late May, the campaign obtained a list of 757 Morehouse alums, going back as far as the Class of 1945. That was the turning point.

Barrineau says each of those names was called at least three times, with Woodfin on the telephone for "hours and hours,' the fundraiser says. "I was guiding him, but he was calling, asking for $25, $50, $100. Some of the men he talked knew Martin Luther King or went to school with him."

Moreover, each call was quickly followed up with an email, leading potential donors to the website, where they could donate.

"We started hitting them with the same literature we sent to locals," Barrineau said. "The response was incredible. They were on fire."

Some alums, including Sellers, hosted fund-raisers in their cities, at least one netted $10,000.

"This Morehouse thing took off and turned into a viral campaign," Barrineau says. "I had no idea."

In June and July, again according to filings, the campaign raised $106,172--and an average of $53,086 each month.

Then in August alone, building on the energy and momentum leading up (and after) to the primary, the campaign raised $109,725--including $46,136 in the week following Woodfin's surprising first-place finish.

September, not surprisingly, was explosive: $117,226, including another $46,000+ week.

Finally, during the first week of October, which included Woodfin's election-night romp, the campaign raised $89,725.

The grand total--so far

Through last week, Woodfin raised $566,898--almost 70% of which Barrineau attributes to the Morehouse network.

"I've never seen anything like it," he says. "It was a real special case."

Barrineau, who earned $3,500 per month for his role as finance director, adds that a group of 50 local attorneys "of all ethnicities" also raised about $2,500 each.

Beyond fundraising, Barrineau says the campaign tied its boots-on-the-ground canvasing efforts into the database.

"This was a completely different environment than anyone has ever seen," he says. "The whole campaign was data- and tech-driven. There was synergy between social media, online communications, emails and even door-knocking, which was tied into the central database.

"They knew exactly where their votes were. We had over 21,000 people and we texted all of them," he says. ""This is a new generation of campaigning, a new generation of voters, something Alabama has never seen."

"Our entire outfit, including fundraising, was very grassroots," says Woodfin, adding that the campaign received well over 3,500 donations. "[Barrineau] is the best fundraiser in the state."

"I still don't know why the mayor never hired me," Barrineau says of those days back in January when he wanted to work for Mayor Bell. "But I have a strong faith that God leads you where you need to go. This was where I needed to be."

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