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The Rainmakers: California's top political donors, 2001-2011

Lavishing their largesse on legislators and political committees alike, the largest donors to California politics spent $1.25 billion from 2001 through 2011. The group — 50 special interests and 50 wealthy individuals — spans the Golden State's social order. They are corporate leaders and venture capitalists, real estate developers and Hollywood scions. They are energy and tobacco companies, labor unions and tribal governments. Collectively, they shelled out a third of all the money given to campaigns in the state during the 11-year period. This data includes only contributions to candidates and ballot measure committees, not independent expenditure groups.

Donor badges

Party Animal
It's their party and they'll donate as much as they want to. Bipartisan support is not a necessity to these political creatures who gave at least 80 percent to just one political party. That's an impressive feat, considering ballot measures are nonpartisan and do not even count toward this calculation. That would be a party foul for these Party Animals. List all 7 recipients
Midas Touch
You donate to win the game. To receive this badge, 90 cents of every dollar donated went to candidates who won or propositions that went the donor's way. Oppose a ballot measure that fails? We call that a win. Some donations do not directly go to a contest that can be won or lost, such as giving to state political parties. Tough luck. Ninety cents of every dollar donated must go to a winner or you don't have the Midas Touch. Remember, it's not worth winning if you can't win big. List all 13 recipients
Underdog
Even in politics, the sun will come out tomorrow. It just hasn't happened yet for these donors. To receive this badge, 90 cents of every dollar donated went to candidates who lost or propositions that didn't go the donor's way. Oppose a ballot measure that wins? We call that a loss. Some donations do not directly go to a contest that can be won or lost, such as giving to state political parties. This badge doesn't care. Ninety cents of every dollar donated must go to losers or you don't get the Underdog badge. List all 13 recipients
True Believer
It takes a little more to be a True Believer. Donors not only must give overwhelmingly to propositions, like Mad Props, but those propositions essentially must be supporting the same issue. The issues don't matter, as long as the donor gives almost all of his or her donations to those causes. List all 12 recipients
Fence Sitter
Choosing can be tough. Why do it? These donors gave to opposing candidates in the same election cycle. It's one way to guarantee backing the winner. Brilliant! Enjoy some cake and eat it, too, while atop that fence post. List all 34 recipients
Deepest Pockets
Hey, big spender, welcome to the club. These five individuals and five groups gave the most money overall, proving they have the Deepest Pockets. List all 10 recipients
Drive by Donor
Not based in California? No problem. California politics doesn't care where the checks come from. This badge specifically honors donors who do not call the Golden State home. Nonresidents or companies based out of state that drop significant cash in only a few elections are our Drive-By Donors. List all 14 recipients
Sugar Daddy
Florence had the Medicis. New York had Carnegie. California's political scene has its Sugar Daddies, awarded to donors whose contributions made up at least 25 percent of all the money that a committee received. Pour some sugar on me. List all 8 recipients
Mad Props
Candidates? We don't need no stinking candidates. Not in California, with its robust initiative process that lets voters decide on law changes without the Legislature having to weigh in. Capital investment. Give at least 95 cents of every dollar to committees supporting or opposing propositions and earn Mad Props. You're the man now, dog! List all 34 recipients
Top Spender 2001
These donors gave more money than any other individual or group during this particular election year. In 2001, the role of Daddy Warbucks was played by ... List all 2 recipients
Top Spender 2002
These donors gave more money than any other individual or group during this particular election year. In 2002, the role of Daddy Warbucks was played by ... List all 2 recipients
Top Spender 2003
These donors gave more money than any other individual or group during this particular election year. In 2003, the role of Daddy Warbucks was played by ... List all 2 recipients
Top Spender 2004
These donors gave more money than any other individual or group during this particular election year. In 2004, the role of Daddy Warbucks was played by ... List all 2 recipients
Top Spender 2005
These donors gave more money than any other individual or group during this particular election year. In 2005, the role of Daddy Warbucks was played by ... List all 2 recipients
Top Spender 2006
These donors gave more money than any other individual or group during this particular election year. In 2006, the role of Daddy Warbucks was played by ... List all 2 recipients
Top Spender 2007
These donors gave more money than any other individual or group during this particular election year. In 2007, the role of Daddy Warbucks was played by ... List all 2 recipients
Top Spender 2008
These donors gave more money than any other individual or group during this particular election year. In 2008, the role of Daddy Warbucks was played by ... List all 2 recipients
Top Spender 2009
These donors gave more money than any other individual or group during this particular election year. In 2009, the role of Daddy Warbucks was played by ... List all 2 recipients
Top Spender 2010
These donors gave more money than any other individual or group during this particular election year. In 2010, the role of Daddy Warbucks was played by ... List all 2 recipients
Top Spender 2011
These donors gave more money than any other individual or group during this particular election year. In 2011, the role of Daddy Warbucks was played by ... List all 2 recipients
Participation Award
Nice job! None of the other badges were a good fit, but no one leaves empty-handed. We're all unique, special snowflakes, after all. Now you can add this to your resume: the Participation Award, for donors who didn't get any other badge. Mom would be so proud. List all 21 recipients

Source: Contribution data from National Institute on Money in State Politics

Credits: Interactive by Michael Corey, Coulter Jones and Chase Davis. Reporting by Coulter Jones. Badge design by Thomas Guffey. Additional reporting by Stanford University students enrolled in a Communications Department investigative reporting class under the direction of California Watch Editorial Director Mark Katches. The project began in January 2011. Students participating were: Devin Banerjee, Daniel Bohm, Kathleen Chaykowski, Tom Corrigan, Cassandra Feliciano, Jamie Hansen, Amy Harris, Josh Hicks, Ellen Huet, Julia James, Paul Jones, Ryan Mac, Valentina Nesci, Dean Schaffer, Elizabeth Titus and Kareem Yasin. Bohm, Hansen, Huet, Harris and Titus continued to work on the project as California Watch interns under the direction of Associate Editor Denise Zapata.

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