Benton County Commission candidates Michael Alvarez and Bill Jenkin have few campaign contributors, but some stand out.
The short lists of contributors to the two include a developer trying to buy more land from the city of Richland, two businesses with the same agent giving the maximum allowed from each, a scion of an old Prosser family, and two $200 anonymous donations.
In August, Benton County Commission District 2 primary voters selected two Republicans, mayor of Richland Alvarez, and former state legislator Jenkin to run county-wide in the November general election.
Alvarez and Jenkin have mostly self-funded their campaigns. They have both reported to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) almost $30,000 in contributions. Most of that comes from the candidates themselves.
Alvarez has $9,100 and Jenkin has $6,066 from other contributors.
Mayor Alvarez’s potential conflicts
Alvarez’s list of 16 individual contributions includes one from developer Tim Bush who has purchased several pieces of city of Richland property since 2018. The church he founded was in competition with several other proposals to buy another lot from the city when the donation was made. Alvarez and the rest of the Richland City Council have to vote to approve the sale. Bush kicked in $200.
Monica Hatcher, the ex-wife of recalled Benton County Sheriff Jerry Hatcher, is the registered agent for two corporations which together contributed $4,000 to Alvarez’s campaign. Stevens Center Management, Inc. and Our Dream Continued, LLC each donated the $2,000 limit to Alvarez.
Stevens Center is a large office complex at the intersection of Spengler Street and Stevens Drive in Richland.
Alvarez, a mortgage broker, did not respond to The Observer’s email asking if he felt there was a potential conflict between these contributions and his role as mayor of Richland.
When told during a telephone interview that her businesses’ contributions were the largest to Alvarez, Hatcher responded that she had been friends with Alvarez through various volunteer activities and she felt that his financial experience would be beneficial to the county’s taxpayers.
“I have been happy with the improvements that have been made in Richland,” she said.
Neither Bush nor Hatcher contributed to Alvarez’s 2017 and 2021 city council campaigns or his 2020 campaign for county commission.
Jenkin has “loaned” money to his campaign
According to PDC reports, Jenkin, owner of Prosser Vineyard and Winery, has contributed $21,326 to his campaign but, unlike Alvarez who donated $19,742 to himself, Jenkin has listed his donations as “loans.”
In an email, the Observer asked Jenkin how he planned to pay back the loans.
“If I was to raise more money than I spend I could be repaid but most likely that won’t happen in this race,” he responded.
Patsy Mercer is the only one of Jenkin’s 27 contributors to make the maximum $2,000 donation. Mercer is a member of a pioneering Prosser farm family that now owns a winery. She serves on the Prosser History Museum’s board of trustees.
Mercer’s only previous contribution to Jenkin’s was $100 to his 2016 campaign for the state House. The commission race is Jenkin’s seventh campaign since 2011.
Mercer did not respond to calls requesting a comment.
Jenkin also lists on his PDC report $400 in anonymous donations. According to PDC rules, “Candidates and committees may retain anonymous contributions up to $300 or one percent of the total contributions received in a calendar year, whichever is greater.”
At the end of the year, candidates must write a check for the overage to the state treasurer and send it to the PDC “along with an explanation of the circumstances surrounding receipt of excess anonymous funds.”
In the August primary Alvarez received 47.26 percent of the vote. Jenkin split the remainder so evenly with a third candidate, Barry Bush, that a recount was required. By 33 votes, Jenkin was elected to move on to the general election. Ballots will be mailed on Oct. 19. The deadline for on-line or by mail registration is Oct. 31.