Meridian’s City Council candidates are raking in large donations ahead of Idaho’s November municipal election.
The five candidates running for three council seats raised over $100,000 through Friday, according to the candidates’ first campaign-finance reports of this election season. That is about $44,000 less than the money raised for Boise City Council campaigns, where 11 candidates are running.
The three Meridian incumbents outraised their challengers by thousands.
In the race for Seat 6, incumbent Luke Cavener raised $37,530 — $35,094 more than his challenger Mike Hon. Cavener’s other challenger, Scott Garbarino, did not file a campaign finance report, according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s website.
In the race for Seat 4, incumbent Treg Bernt raised $29,930 — $24,430 more than his challenger, Adam Nelson, who raised $5,500.
In the race for Seat 2, incumbent Joe Borton raised $24,607. His challenger, Hunter Wolf, did not file a campaign fiance report.
Candidates in 2019 for Meridian City Council Seats 1, 3, 5, did not raise anything close to the amounts Borton, Cavener and Bernt have raised this year.
The Meridian Press reported in 2019 that Elizabeth “Liz” Strader, the successful candidate for Seat 1, received $3,700. Councilman Brad Hoaglun raised $7,057 in his successful race for Seat 2. Jessica Perreault raised $6,173 in her successful race for Seat 5.
Borton and Cavener each received $1,000 donations from CBH Homes. Borton, Cavener and Bernt received $1,000 donations from Conger Group, Brighton Corp. and Engineering Solutions LLC, all developers or developer representatives. CBH a Meridian home builder, is the largest in Idaho. Conger Group is a Boise home builder, and Brighton Corp. is a Meridian developer of residential and commercial properties. Engineering Solutions is an engineering and architectural contractor that serves Toll Bros., another big residential developer in the Valley.
These developers and representatives are common faces in City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings when seeking approvals for new developments.
Cavener received $1,000 from Zach Evans Construction, Nampa Paving and Asphalt Co., and Murgoitio Ranch LLC. Bernt received $1,000 donations from Tommy Ahlquist, the president and CEO of Ball Ventures Alquist, a development firm; and from Alturas Capital, a commercial real estate development firm.
Nelson did not receive any donations from companies, only from individuals. He got $1,000 from himself, $1,000 from Kim Nelson, $1,000 each from Rhonda and Rod Marcum, and $1,000 from Al Russell Jr.
Hon donated $2,436 to himself. His campaign fiance report does not list any other names.
Cavener said a number of factors went into his decision to raise more money this year. He said that during his City Council race in 2017, his opponent raised a substantial amount of money and donated a lot to himself. Cavener won that race but said it was “eye opening.”
“You have to be serious about fundraising,” Cavener said by phone. ”In addition to all of the stuff I love doing ... connecting to the voters, to be a viable candidate, you have to focus on fundraising.”
Cavener said he typically spends a lot of his own money on his campaign, but this year his wife, Adrean, who typically runs his campaigns, is back in school, and his sons are in high school and kindergarten, so for the first time Cavener hired people to run his campaign. A lot of that help has been with fundraising, he said.
He also said a year ago, there was talk of Meridian moving into district-wide City Council races instead of the at-large races residents are accustomed to. Cavener said he thought running a campaign would be much harder with the district elections, so he thought a campaign staff would help.
A state law enacted last year requires cities with at least 100,000 residents to elect city council members by district, not at large. Meridian has crossed the 100,000 threshold, but the 2020 U.S. Census results verifying that were not released in time for this election to be changed to districts, so the city is conducting one last at-large council election.
At the end of his campaign, Cavener said, he donates 10% of his fund to the Meridian Food Bank.
“That donation is going to be much larger this year,” he said.
Reached by email, Bernt said “I’m very grateful for the broad support from people that believe in me and my vision for Meridian...”
“The surge of support, and supporters, is humbling and encouraging,” Borton said in an email. “It mirrors the migration to Meridian – residents love our community, and in this campaign they want to support what got us here.”
Early voting starts Monday, Oct. 18 and continues through Friday, Oct. 29. Election Day is Nov. 2.