St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain laid his campaign finance cards on the table back in July — when he was the only candidate in the race to file a report 90 days out from the election — and it was a strong hand that he displayed, with nearly $350,000 in his coffers.
Strain wasn’t required to file a 90-day report, but doing so let the competition know about his financial advantage.
The five-term incumbent is still by far the best-funded candidate in the four-person sheriff’s race, according to campaign finance reports that were due Thursday, 30 days from the Oct. 24 election.
With nearly $338,000, Strain has more money on hand than any other candidate in any St. Tammany race.
When it comes to raising money, though, his challengers are showing some strength.
Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith reported raising nearly $197,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from Jan. 1 through Sept. 14. But Strain added another $61,000 since he filed his 90-day report, bringing the total he has raised from April 18 through Sept. 14 to $285,000.
Smith, who was elected to his second term as Slidell police chief without opposition last year, reported expenditures of nearly $115,000 since Jan. 1, while Strain has spent just over $157,000 since mid-April.
Scott Illing, a retired U.S. Customs agent who jumped into the race in late July, trails well behind both Strain and Smith in fundraising. Illing began the race with no money, according to his 30-day report, compared with balances of nearly $350,000 for Strain and nearly $14,000 for Smith. But the first-time candidate has raised $70,185 since his late start — more than Strain raised for the same period.
Libertarian Jennifer Werther, who began her campaign on social media more than a year ago, did not file a report by the Thursday deadline. She said she had planned to file three days early. But she found out that as a first-time candidate, she had to file an affidavit, which was due five days prior to the reporting deadline.
Her report, filed Saturday, shows that she received $547.37 in donations, including $62.37 of her own money. She spent nearly all of that in the same 30-day period, meaning she had $29.71 left. She said she expects to run her entire campaign for $1,500.
The other three candidates — all Republicans — have spent far more than that already, with the biggest checks going to political consultants and advertising.
Smith has paid over $21,000 to his consultant, James Hartman and Associates, and has spent $24,428 on television advertising and video production costs. Other big-ticket items include nearly $11,000 worth of signs.
Strain spent nearly $40,000 on cable-TV advertising, another $2,000 on digital advertising and just over $14,000 on signs.
Illing has two consultants: Bernie Cyrus, who managed 22nd Judicial District Attorney Warren Montgomery’s successful campaign last fall, and Scott McVickers. He’s paid Cyrus $3,500 and McVickers $3,000. Illing has also spent $4,000 on television ads, $3,000 on Internet advertising, $10,450 on billboards and nearly $7,500 on other signage.
Smith said he’s pleased with his fundraising efforts, adding that unsolicited donations arrive every day. “We will have what we need to finish strong,” he said.
Adam Eversole, vice president for political services with Hartman and Associates, said Smith’s financial support comes from a broad geographic cross-section of the parish, and from both large and small donors.
Illing said his aim is to raise $40,000 to $100,000, the amount he feels is needed to get the word out about his candidacy and get into a runoff. Illing, who is positioning himself as the candidate who is not politically connected, said he doesn’t agree with the idea of raising and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a race.
Illing’s donors are almost exclusively from western St. Tammany Parish, with no Slidell addresses listed. Illing, who grew up and still lives on the western side of St. Tammany, said that much of the money he has received is from longtime friends and family members and that he doesn’t know many people in Slidell well enough to ask for money — though he is actively soliciting their votes.
Strain could not be reached for comment on his campaign finance reports. But his report shows donations from both ends of the parish.
Editor’s note: This story was changed on Sept. 28 to correctly reflect how much Sheriff Jack Strain reported having raised in his July campaign finance report.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.