GONZALES — Interim Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre had a commanding fundraising lead over his opponents in the sheriff's race, while Murphy Painter led the pack among the four candidates for parish president as their campaigns head toward the Oct. 12 primary.

The funding advantages for the two candidates as of Sept. 22 meant they had more cash than their opponents to put their messages on various media platforms and to finance on-the-ground operations to turn out voters. 

Painter, a former Ascension chief deputy and state Alcohol and Tobacco Control commissioner, entered the final weeks of the parish president election with a 5-to-1 money advantage on his nearest opponent, Clint Cointment.

Webre's fundraising in the sheriff's race dwarfed that of his opponents by an even greater margin, his latest campaign finance reports show.

Three first time candidates vying to succeed longtime Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley

He had $115,236 in the bank as of the Sept. 22 filing, although he had already spent $110,400 in the prior period and had only raised another $13,820 since early September, the reports show.

Former Ascension Parish sheriff's deputy Byron Hill, Webre's nearest opponent in the money race, had just $336 in the bank even after raising another $12,280 between early September and Sept. 22.

Moses Black Jr., a former Gonzales police officer and the third candidate in the race, had no money and engaged in no spending, the campaign finance reports show.

Black is a Democrat; Hill and Webre are Republicans. Early voting for the sheriff's election and other parish races ended Saturday.

Webre has been able to build a war chest of nearly $400,500 in cash and in-kind contributions for this year's election, campaign finance reports show. He jumped into the race  after former Sheriff Jeff Wiley announced in 2018 that he would retire if his daughter Erin Wiley Lanoux were elected parish court judge last fall. 

The sizable and early advantage has allowed Webre, who became sheriff after Wiley stepped down in early January, to amass the firepower to set up his campaign operation, develop his volunteer base and headquarters, and promote his name and message to parts of the parish that may not know the 34-year veteran of the department and former chief deputy.

Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 2, Webre had spent nearly $152,400 in all on his campaign, with $41,500 of that going toward polling and other political message development and on various methods of advertising, including billboards, street signs and online ads, reports show.

But since then, Webre has unleashed a torrent of advertising to promote his candidacy, spending nearly $100,900 in the 20 days since the last reporting period ended on cable television, online, direct mail and radio advertising buys.

Hill, who has focused on a grassroots, door-to-door campaign and has been active voicing his criticism of Webre on his own Facebook page, spent the bulk of what he raised in September on mailers and postage, costing a total of $11,474. He spent about $100 on Facebook ads, his report shows.

Since the reporting period ended on Sept. 22, Webre has received at least another $4,000 in contributions, including $2,000 from longtime Gonzales business V. Purpera & Sons Lumber Co., according to reports filed after the Sept. 22 deadline.

These special 48-hour reports required in the final days of an election don't show spending and show only larger donations.

In the parish president's race, Painter had nearly $57,900 in the bank as of Sept. 22 compared with Cointment's nearly $10,600 in the bank even after he loaned his campaign $16,000 in September, reports show. But Cointment, a Gonzales surveyor, was able to collect at least another $4,400 in donations through Oct. 2, special reports show.

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Rick Webre, a former parish homeland security director who was a late entrant to the parish president's race and is the brother of Sheriff Webre, had nearly $5,300 in the bank at the Sept. 22 reporting deadline but loaned his campaign another $2,000 on Sept. 26 for the stretch run, reports say.

Diggs, a retired schoolteacher and coach who now works as an industrial maintenance project supervisor, ended the reporting period with no money in the bank after $2,430 in spending.

Painter, Cointment and Rick Webre are Republicans; Diggs is a Democrat.

During the latest reporting period, between Sept. 3 and 22, Painter spent more than $26,300, including nearly $7,300 on video commercials.

In the earlier period this year,  out of nearly $67,800 in total spending, Painter's campaign spent nearly $24,850 on forms of advertising: street signs; campaign paraphernalia, like drink koozies; a photo shoot; and on production of a television commercial, reports show.

Cointment had spent $38,450 during the latest period, including $35,000 on consulting and media.

Rick Webre and Diggs have tried in campaign forums to make an issue of contributions in the parish president's race. Diggs promised not to take any, while Webre promised not to take contributions from those who do business with the parish.

Painter and Cointment have taken more nuanced stands on their contributions in a race that has focused heavily on managing population growth.

Painter has accepted contributions from construction companies, homebuilders and engineering firms who do work with the parish or homebuilders. But he also has received contibutions from many small individual donors.

He argues that such donations are necessary to mount a parishwide campaign and says they don't compromise his positions on issues, which include slowing down growth so the parish can catch up.

He raised another $10,150 in contributions in the latest reporting period. Among those were a handful of lawyers and law firms, including $2,500 from Chuck Long, a longtime assistant district attorney and Donaldsonville city attorney, and his private law firm.

Cointment, a Gonzales surveyor who has been critical of how the parish has planned for growth and has called for a halt in development until infrastructure catches up, has drawn contributions from companies who do work with the parish but also from many individual donors.

He has said he has taken the money only with a promise to offer the companies a fair system to win parish work, which he charges doesn't exist currently.

Among his donations since the Sept. 22 reporting period ended was $2,500 from the Louisiana Realtors Political Action Committee on Sept. 30, a special report shows.

Email David J. Mitchell at dmitchell@theadvocate.com

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.