Phil Anschutz, powerful but shy Colorado right-wing multibillionaire


Phil Anschutz is one of the richest people in Colorado. But he has considerable national clout. He is notoriously publicity shy and reclusive. Business Insider reports that he is “one of only two people who’ve made the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans every year since the first version was published in 1982.”

An heir to a western oil-drilling fortune, Anschutz diversified into railroads, ranches and media markets. In 2002, Fortune said he was America’s “greediest executive” when he topped a list of corporate bigshots who sold off shares as their firms collapsed, while other shareholders suffered huge losses. He likes to avoid paying taxes and has sued the IRS many times.

In 2009, Media Matters and Forbes speculated that Anschutz was stealthily trying to become a right-wing media mogul like Rupert Murdoch. He launched free tabloid newspapers in various cities. He acquired The Weekly Standard (from Murdoch) and the Washington Examiner, two money-losing conservative publications in Washington, D.C.

Anschutz owns AEG Live, the world’s second largest presenter of live music, sports and entertainment. He owns several movie theater chains and many athletic teams.

Anschutz’s Walden Media has aspired to create films with right-wing ideological content using a gentle touch. Two films were a bit too obvious: the documentary Waiting for Superman and the fictional Won’t Back Down, which attacked public education, scapegoated teachers’ unions and promoted private charter schools.

Anschutz got some unwanted publicity in 2017 after he acquired the popular Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival outside Los Angeles. Socially liberal entertainment industry folk were concerned that he funded anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion, anti-gun control, anti-marijuana and climate-change denial efforts, all to which Anschutz made the Trumpian claim of “fake news.” Under pressure, he said he had been careless and then contributed $1 million to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. He did quit funding a number of anti-LGBTQ groups at that point. Anschutz now insists he supports LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedom.

Open Secrets reports that Anschutz, his wife and his corporation have contributed a great deal to many Republican politicians, Super PACs and committees. Anschutz participates in the Koch tycoon network’s clandestine summits.

Anschutz lives in Denver, but a 2012 profile of him in The New Yorker entitled “The Man Who Owns L.A.” emphasized his “entertainment kingdom.”

The University of Colorado medical campus in Aurora bears his name because of his contributions to the school. Anschutz was a big supporter of Neil Gorsuch for U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1992, Anschutz donated $10,000 to Colorado for Family Values, which backed Amendment 2, a measure that prohibited anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people before the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.

Anschutz’s family foundation gave James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, an award for his “contributions to the American Family.” Dobson’s Colorado Springs-based “global Christian ministry” is anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion. It offers advice on parenting, marriage and financial management. It has several podcasts and a 1-800 help line.

For years, Anschutz has had an interest in Colorado journalism. He bought the Colorado Springs Gazette, the city’s longtime daily newspaper, which was editorially conservative. He purchased the name and assets of the Rocky Mountain News, which closed in February 2009.

In 2017, Anschutz took over The Colorado Statesman, which was a weekly newspaper founded in 1899 covering state government, public policy issues, campaigns, elections and political parties. It merged with Anschutz’s online and The Statesman disappeared.

Instead of re-launching the Rocky Mountain News, he created the online Denver Gazette. Lately, there have been online ads urging people to “leave” the Denver Post “in the past” and turn to the Denver Gazette for “news you can trust.” This is sort of like the Fox News’ claim to be “fair and balanced” in comparison with the supposedly leftist “mainstream.”

Will this work? The Colorado Springs Gazette seems too MAGA loony for the Denver metro area. Shortly after the 2020 election, the Gazette editorialized about election fraud. Wayne Laugesen, the editorial page editor (and former Boulder Weekly reporter and editor in the ’90s), attended the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and quickly concluded the rioters were “probably Antifa.”

The Gazette endorsed Lauren Boebert in both the 2020 and 2022 elections as well as in the GOP primary against the more moderate Don Coram. The 2020 editorial said: “In addition to movie star looks, she exudes passion for freedom, capitalism, and the United States that makes the socialist, anti-America sentiment of AOC + three look gloomy and sad.”

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly. 


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