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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.

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.

8 Philip Morris USA Inc., Richmond, VA Tobacco company 364 donations: 286 to candidates, 67 to ballot measures and 11 to parties
11 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Winston-Salem, NC Tobacco company 354 donations: 251 to candidates, 84 to ballot measures and 19 to parties
23 Pfizer Inc., New York, NY Pharmaceutical company 490 donations: 432 to candidates, 8 to ballot measures and 50 to parties
24 Johnson & Johnson Services, Inc., New Brunswick, NJ Pharmaceutical company 348 donations: 314 to candidates, 11 to ballot measures and 23 to parties
26 GlaxoSmithKline, London, England Pharmaceutical company 727 donations: 701 to candidates, 7 to ballot measures and 19 to parties
29 Merck & Co. Inc., Whitehouse Station, NJ Pharmaceutical company 220 donations: 215 to candidates, 3 to ballot measures and 2 to parties
5 Peter V. Sperling, Phoenix, AZ University of Phoenix 24 donations: 13 to candidates, 7 to ballot measures and 4 to parties
49 Eli Lilly and Co., Indianapolis, IN Pharmaceutical Company 668 donations: 647 to candidates, 4 to ballot measures and 17 to parties
13 Robert "Bob" W. Wilson, Brooklyn, NY Investor 5 donations: 0 to candidates, 5 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
16 T. Boone Pickens Jr., Dallas, TX Energy and oil 13 donations: 4 to candidates, 5 to ballot measures and 4 to parties
21 George Soros, Westchester, NY Investment management 8 donations: 1 to candidates, 7 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
25 Bradley Wayne Hughes, Lexington, KY Public Storage 20 donations: 9 to candidates, 5 to ballot measures and 6 to parties
32 John G. Sperling, Phoenix, AZ University of Phoenix 22 donations: 12 to candidates, 6 to ballot measures and 4 to parties
41 Frank E. Baxter Investment management 143 donations: 110 to candidates, 13 to ballot measures and 20 to parties

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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