GONZALES — Interim Ascension Parish Sheriff Bobby Webre and Murphy Painter, a candidate for parish president, hold strong fundraising leads over their opponents in the campaigns to be the next sheriff and parish president.
Despite significant spending so far this year, both men also enter the final month of their respective campaigns with advantages in cash on hand.
The reports, which were due Thursday to the state Board of Ethics, give the first solid peek into campaign fundraising for the two races on the Oct. 12 ballot and the candidates' relative support since the start of the year.
The last round of reports were for fundraising in 2018, and no reports had been due since then until Thursday, even as those parish campaigns gained momentum.
Bobby Webre, the former chief deputy and a veteran of the department for more than 34 years, raised more than $352,330 so far this year in his campaign to replace six-term Sheriff Jeff Wiley.
Webre had $211,816 left to spend as of early September, though he had already spent $152,372.
The tallies, which are as of Sept. 2, means Webre has raised nearly 23 times the amount of money and other support this year as his nearest rival, military recruiter and former Ascension deputy Byron Hill. He raised $12,263 this year, reports show.
Hill, however, has spent most of what he has raised and entered September with $343 in cash on hand.
Moses Black, a terminated Gonzales police officer also running for sheriff, hasn't raised or spent enough to require him to report it.
Webre entered 2019 having already raised $31,010 in 2018, even before he became interim sheriff with Wiley's early departure in January. That means Webre has raised more than $380,000 in all for the fall sheriff's election.
Wiley had previously announced his retirement plans, saying Webre would be his interim replacement.
Hill and Webre are Republicans; Black is a Democrat. Early voting starts Sept. 28. Voters will be asked to fill the remainder of Wiley's current term and the next four-year term.
Webre said in a statement that he was humbled by the contributions from more than 1,000 people from across the parish. Webre's campaign finance report filed with the state Ethics Board is 209 pages.
"I think these numbers show that the people of Ascension Parish don’t want to take a gamble on public safety," Webre said. "That’s been the focus of my campaign from the beginning."
Hill brushed off Webre's monetary advantage, saying he is focused on a door-to-door campaign to get out his message.
"I say that when I win on Oct. 12, it's going to prove a huge point: that you don’t need $350,000 to win an election. You just got to have the right message," said Hill, who is promising to break what he sees as a good old boy network in the Sheriff's Office.
Webre has countered that Hill hasn't shown a commitment to law enforcement, three times leaving the field for other opportunities.
Black, who has brought a federal retaliation suit over his firing in Gonzales, said he isn't worried what other candidates are raising.
"I'm just running my campaign," he said.
In the Ascension president's race, Painter, also a former Ascension sheriff's deputy and onetime state Alcohol and Tobacco Control commissioner, raised nearly $141,680 so far this year. Cointment, a Gonzales surveyor, raised $52,321 so far, including small loans totaling $675.
Painter entered the month of September with $73,441 in the bank compared with Cointment's $32,043.
A late entrant into the presidential campaign, Rick Webre, the former longtime parish homeland security director and brother of Bobby Webre, raised $2,200 in contributions so far but also loaned his campaign $13,335. He had $8,027 left to spend as of early September.
Ricky Diggs, a retired school teacher and military veteran who now works in industry, contributed $1,413 to his campaign but raised no other money. He has spent all that money.
Diggs is a Democrat. Cointment, Painter and Rick Webre are Republicans.
The candidates are seeking to replace Parish President Kenny Matassa, who did not seek reelection after his bribery acquittal last year.
Transparency and leadership, along with growth management, have been major themes in the race and so the influence of campaign donations have been raised as an issue.
Rick Webre and Diggs have a made a point of not taking donations. Diggs has said he won't take any while Webre has said that to avoid potential conflicts of interest he won't take donations from companies that offer professional services to the parish.
Painter and Cointment have been more open to donations but have asserted they had the strength to tell contributors no. Cointment says he has taken money from firms only with the promise to create a fair system for awarding parish work. Painter has promised to not play favorites.
Painter said his contributions "are a reflection of the confidence the voters have in our message of valid change and responding to our citizens' needs."
Cointment said he has what he needs for the primary election due to his grass-roots campaign methods. He said he would have to do additional fundraising if he makes it to the runoff.
Rick Webre said the contributions he has received so far were from people who offered money but said he hasn't had a fundraiser yet. His first of several was planned Saturday.
"I know we're behind, but that's going to change shortly," he said.