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Steve Wells spent only 30% of the $11 million set aside to beat Polis, Colorado Democrats

GOP donor says he intended to spend the full amount but refunded the majority after others declined to join him
Weld County farmer and rancher Steve Wells talks with a reporter in his office Sept. 9. Wells dedicated $11 million to Republican Heidi Ganahl’s failed gubernatorial campaign but only spent $3.3 million in the effort. He cited the lack of support from other donors as the reason the rest of the pledged donation wasn’t used. (Valerie Mosley, Special to the Colorado Sun)

HUDSON – Steve Wells, the deep-pocketed Weld County rancher and oil and gas booster who made waves over the summer when he dedicated $11 million toward a long shot effort to unseat Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, ended up spending only about 30% of the money.

Wells says he has refunded himself about $7 million from the super PAC, Deep Colorado Wells, that he formed to defeat Polis and support Republican candidates, leaving about $850,000 in the committee’s coffers for future political spending.

Wells said he always intended to spend the full $11 million but that he stopped at $3.3 million about a month before Election Day after he realized other GOP donors weren’t going to open their wallets in Colorado and as he saw how much money Polis, a wealthy self-funding candidate, was dedicating to his reelection bid.

“There was no help from the wealthy Republican people I knew who told me they would help,” Wells told The Colorado Sun in an interview last week at a restaurant in Hudson. “Once we started seeing all the millions Polis was going to spend on commercials – and not getting any help from anybody – is when we kind of decided that it was time to stop. You just can’t compete with that.”

Wells, whose fortune comes from oil and gas drilling on his 40,000-acre Weld County ranch, said he has severed ties with some wealthy GOP donors over their unfulfilled financial commitments.

“It’s changed who I do business with,” Wells said without getting specific. “If you want to sit and piss and moan and (expletive) about your taxes and crime and all this (expletive) and do absolutely nothing, then get the hell away from me, because I don’t have time for that.”

Polis spent at least $13 million on his 2022 reelection bid after spending more than $23 million to win his first term in 2018.

Polis this year beat his Republican challenger, University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl, by more than 19 percentage points in the most decisive victory by a Colorado gubernatorial candidate in two decades.

Ganahl’s fundraising was lackluster and her campaign was marred by a series of unforced errors. Every major statewide GOP candidate in Colorado lost by at least 10 percentage points this year, with Ganahl’s defeat being the most severe.

Wells said he doesn’t blame Ganahl for her loss, and he doesn’t regret supporting her candidacy rather than directing his money toward other candidates. He figured that supporting Ganahl would provide a boost to all Republicans running this year. Wells also thought other GOP donors would follow his lead.

“She worked real hard,” he said. “She was limited by finances, and I think that’s huge. I don’t think she got the press she should have.”

Ganahl and her campaign often clashed with reporters. She refused to debate Polis on 9News, Colorado’s most-watched TV news channel, and on the night before Election Day accused reporters of trying to suppress the vote by sharing polling showing she was destined to lose by a large margin.

If he could do it all over again, Wells said he would have started his spending – which focused on TV, digital and billboard ads – earlier instead of waiting until the summer before the election.

“I don’t regret anything I’ve done,” he said. “There’s things that we probably could have done differently. Everybody is a Monday morning quarterback.”

As for where Wells plans to spend the money that remains in his super PAC’s account, he said he will focus on local issues, like city council, county commission and school board races. “I’m not gonna quit.”

Deep Colorado Wells’ final campaign finance report for the 2022 election cycle is due to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office on Dec. 13.

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