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Gov. Polis tops Weld County rancher Wells as Colorado’s biggest 2022 campaign donor – so far

Colorado Democratic Party giving to legislative and statewide candidates; Republican Party expects to pick up spending
Steve Wells and Jared Polis (Associated Press photos)

Democratic Gov. Jared Polis pulled ahead of the other top Colorado campaign 2022 donor in recent weeks, putting another $2 million into his reelection bid and bringing his self-funding total this cycle to $11.1 million.

That exceeds the $11 million Steve Wells, a Weld County rancher and oil and gas booster, has donated to Deep Colorado Wells, his super PAC opposing Polis and other Democrats.

But national groups and small donor committees also continue to pour money into candidate committees and super PACs.

The Colorado Sun took a look at the top 2022 donors based on campaign finance filings this week that cover fundraising and spending through Sept. 28. The next filing date for state candidates and committees is Oct. 17.

Steve Wells and national groups top super PAC donors

State independent spending and 527 committees, also known as super PACs, raised nearly $59 million through Sept. 28. And 15 top donors accounted for more than half that cash.

Many of those groups are national political organizations, also common in past years.

But this year, the top super PAC donor is Wells Ranch, which donated $11 million to Deep Colorado Wells. Ranch owner Steve Wells created the super PAC and is funding it using money he made leasing out his large Weld County ranch for oil and gas drilling. The group is posting billboards and airing TV and radio ads attacking Polis and Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser.

In many instances, one super PAC donates to another, which may even donate to a third super PAC. Nearly $10 million of the total raised by state-level super PACs in recent weeks was money transferred from one super PAC to another.

For example, the Democratic Governors Association, a national group, donated more than $3 million to Strong Colorado for All. That group donated $1.5 million to Colorado Information Network, which aired TC ads in Colorado’s Republican gubernatorial primary.

Now, Strong Colorado for All is airing TV ads opposing GOP gubernatorial candidate Heidi Ganahl.

Strong Colorado for All has also received money from national nonprofit Education Reform Now Advocacy, the third top donor at close to $3 million, which gave to several Democratic super PACs.

National nonprofit Sixteen Thirty Fund, typically a top Colorado donor in recent years, gave about $2.1 million to various Democratic super PACs through Sept. 28.

On the Republican side, the national GOPAC Election Fund gave nearly $2.1 million to the Senate Majority Fund, which is airing TV ads, sending mailers and more in an effort to wrest control of the state Senate from Democrats. State-level conservative nonprofit Advance Colorado Action donated nearly $1.3 million to two GOP super PACs working on legislative contests.

Gubernatorial candidates are biggest donors to statewide candidate campaigns

Polis accounts for 47% of the nearly $24 million raised by candidates for the top four state-level statewide offices. His most recent donation was $2 million on Sept. 21, filings show.

In 2018, Polis spent more than $23 million to win the governor’s contest.

Polis’ Republican opponent this year, Ganahl, was the second highest donor among statewide candidates, giving her campaign $400,000. She’s also loaned her campaign more than $850,000, including $400,000 on Sept. 22.

The Colorado Democratic Party has donated more than $276,000 to the four Democratic candidates running for the top state-level jobs. But the Colorado Republican Party hasn’t donated to its candidates for statewide office, even though political parties may donate up to $679,000 to gubernatorial candidates and up to almost $136,000 for candidates for attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer.

Joe Jackson, executive director of the Colorado Republican Party, said the party will be involved in coming weeks.

“Instead of making direct contributions we are spending coordinated dollars on their behalf,” Jackson said. “Most of that will be dropped in the next few weeks.”

Here’s a look at statewide candidate fundraising and spending through Sept. 28:

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