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Republican rancher and oil and gas booster donates millions to counter Polis spending

Steve Wells, one of Weld County's farmers/ranchers talks about climate change after a rally against federal legislation on climate change in Greeley in 2009. (Ed Andrieski/The Associated Press)
Steve Wells is keeping GOP challenger Heidi Ganahl in the political spending game with more than $6 million donated so far

The 2022 race for Colorado governor may boil down to who wants to spend more of their own money: Democratic Gov. Jared Polis or Steve Wells, a Weld County rancher and oil and gas booster who is now one of the state’s most prolific Republican donors.

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Polis gave his 2022 reelection campaign another $1.2 million in August, bringing his total so far this cycle to $7.1 million, according to a campaign finance report filed Tuesday. He had $3.3 million in his campaign’s bank account to start September after spending $4.4 million, most of it on TV ads scheduled to run through Election Day.

His first TV ad is set to air starting today. Polis spent more than $23 million to win his first term in 2018.

Meanwhile, University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl, Polis’ Republican opponent in November, brought in nearly $252,000 last month. She paid off $46,000 of a $250,000 loan she previously made to the campaign and had $188,000 heading into this month, putting her at a major cash disadvantage compared with her deep-pocketed opponent.

Republican candidate for governor Heidi Ganahl speaks during the GOP assembly at the Broadmoor World Arena on April 9 in Colorado Springs. Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun

But Wells appears to be helping Ganahl make up the difference. Wells Ranch, the company owned by Wells, put another $5 million into Deep Colorado Wells, the state-level super PAC he formed in June.

This brings Wells Ranch’s total investment in the PAC to $6 million. And it makes the ranch the biggest donor to a state-level super PAC in Colorado so far this cycle.

While the group’s stated mission is to support Republican candidates, nearly all of Deep Colorado Wells’ $600,000 in spending last month went toward opposing Polis and supporting Ganahl.

Wells told The Sun he isn’t sure how much he’ll spend to defeat Polis.

“I honestly believe this is probably the most important election Colorado will ever see,” he said. “I look at the drugs, I look at the crime. I’m looking at the homelessness, I’m looking at the economy. These guys have made a mess out of everything.”

Polis spokeswoman Amber Miller said the governor “is working hard to earn voters’ support, including getting his positive message out to all Coloradans about how he will protect our freedoms, fight to cut costs and always do what’s right for Colorado.”

In one video on his website, Wells encourages voters not to back third-party candidates, saying a vote for third-party candidates is “a vote for Jared Polis and the Democrats.” He appeared to be referencing Danielle Neuschwanger, the American Constitution Party’s gubernatorial nominee, who left the GOP after failing to make the primary ballot. She raised only $7,200 in August, and had less than $8,500 in cash.

Neuschwanger is expected to win votes in November that would have otherwise gone to Ganahl.

Wells, who says his family has been farming and ranching in Colorado since 1888, even promotes his efforts on his voicemail message. “Hi, this is Steve Wells,” said the message on the phone listed for the PAC. “After three and a half years of the Democratic leadership we have in the state of Colorado, if you still support that, please hang up. I don’t have time for that. Everyone else leave a message.”

Wells has partnered with Noble Energy, which was acquired by Chevron in 2021, to drill on his family’s tens of thousands of acres of land in Gill. He questioned the science behind climate change in a 2016 Christian Science Monitor article.

Deep Colorado Wells spent $500,000 in August on radio ads opposing Polis and supporting Ganahl.

The super PAC spent more than $401,000 on anti-Polis billboards in July and August, and is scheduling TV ad time that’s billed as mentioning “inflation, drug abuse, homelessness.” The ads are slated to air Sept. 12 through Nov. 6.

The super PAC has two websites, one that features pictures of the billboards and videos about Wells. Another, Had Enough Colorado, is headlined “It’s time for a change! Inflation, crime, drugs & deaths. Coloradans are feeling the pain and chaos under current ‘leadership.’”

In June, Wells donated $100,000 to Defend Colorado, a state-level super PAC that supported Ganahl in the primary.

Wells Ranch donated $100,000 in 2019 to a committee to recall Democratic Rep. Rochelle Galindo. The Greeley lawmaker resigned before she could be recalled over allegations that she was later acquitted of by a jury.

Wells has also donated $5,800 to GOP state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer’s campaign in the 8th Congressional District.

Read more at The Colorado Sun

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.