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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.

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!

2 Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Washington, DC Pharmaceuticals and biotechnology lobbying group 552 donations: 203 to candidates, 311 to ballot measures and 38 to parties
$71,608,063
1 Stephen L. Bing, Los Angeles, CA Screenwriter and movie producer 56 donations: 23 to candidates, 19 to ballot measures and 14 to parties
$52,500,782
8 Philip Morris USA Inc., Richmond, VA Tobacco company 364 donations: 286 to candidates, 67 to ballot measures and 11 to parties
$39,553,382
10 Aera Energy, Bakersfield, CA Energy company (oil, natural gas) 33 donations: 0 to candidates, 33 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$33,435,243
11 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Winston-Salem, NC Tobacco company 354 donations: 251 to candidates, 84 to ballot measures and 19 to parties
$25,850,024
12 United Auburn Indian Community of the Auburn Rancheria, Auburn, CA Tribal government with gaming interests 140 donations: 100 to candidates, 33 to ballot measures and 7 to parties
$21,886,982
13 Pala Band of Mission Indians, Pala, CA Tribal government with gaming interests 109 donations: 77 to candidates, 27 to ballot measures and 5 to parties
$20,368,354
15 Clean Energy Fuels Corp., Seal Beach, CA Energy company (natural gas, alternative fuels) 32 donations: 13 to candidates, 17 to ballot measures and 2 to parties
$18,894,800
16 League of California Cities, Sacramento, CA Lobbying group 109 donations: 0 to candidates, 109 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$16,541,585
19 Edison International, Rosemead, CA Energy company 90 donations: 61 to candidates, 7 to ballot measures and 22 to parties
$14,503,204
3 Charles T. Munger Jr., Palo Alto, CA Physicist at Stanford University 60 donations: 25 to candidates, 25 to ballot measures and 10 to parties
$14,093,488
25 California Association of Public Hospitals & Health Systems, Oakland, CA Trade association 215 donations: 54 to candidates, 153 to ballot measures and 8 to parties
$11,077,454
29 Merck & Co. Inc., Whitehouse Station, NJ Pharmaceutical company 220 donations: 215 to candidates, 3 to ballot measures and 2 to parties
$10,189,760
30 Occidental Petroleum Corporation, Los Angeles, CA Energy company (oil, natural gas) 249 donations: 239 to candidates, 9 to ballot measures and 1 to parties
$9,978,000
5 Peter V. Sperling, Phoenix, AZ University of Phoenix 24 donations: 13 to candidates, 7 to ballot measures and 4 to parties
$9,155,000
35 Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, Brooks, CA Tribal government with gaming interests 51 donations: 38 to candidates, 10 to ballot measures and 3 to parties
$8,341,241
37 Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA Environmental advocacy group 55 donations: 0 to candidates, 55 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$7,988,856
8 Henry T. Nicholas III, Newport Coast, CA Broadcom semiconductor company 7 donations: 1 to candidates, 6 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$7,501,406
10 Thomas Steyer, San Francisco, CA Investment management 12 donations: 6 to candidates, 5 to ballot measures and 1 to parties
$6,144,400
48 National Education Association, Washington, DC Labor union 8 donations: 0 to candidates, 8 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$6,135,888
11 James E. Holman, Coronado, CA Publishing 74 donations: 9 to candidates, 65 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$5,151,586
13 Robert "Bob" W. Wilson, Brooklyn, NY Investor 5 donations: 0 to candidates, 5 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$4,000,100
14 Vinod Khosla, Portola Valley, CA Venture capital 21 donations: 13 to candidates, 6 to ballot measures and 2 to parties
$3,982,418
15 William A. Robinson Business executive 20 donations: 9 to candidates, 9 to ballot measures and 2 to parties
$3,843,850
17 Rob Reiner, Los Angeles, CA Entertainment 84 donations: 38 to candidates, 39 to ballot measures and 7 to parties
$3,452,200
19 Robert N. Klein II, Fresno, CA Real estate investment 32 donations: 16 to candidates, 15 to ballot measures and 1 to parties
$3,144,964
20 Ann Howland Doerr, Woodside, CA Environmental advocacy group 34 donations: 25 to candidates, 6 to ballot measures and 3 to parties
$3,137,425
21 George Soros, Westchester, NY Investment management 8 donations: 1 to candidates, 7 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$3,035,000
23 Jerry L. Keenan, Fair Oaks, CA Auto insurance 36 donations: 7 to candidates, 29 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$2,848,866
29 Bruce E. Harrington, Newport Beach, CA 15 donations: 2 to candidates, 13 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$1,989,258
35 Wendy Schmidt, Atherton, CA Schmidt Family Foundation 8 donations: 4 to candidates, 4 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$1,580,900
43 Sergey Brin, Los Altos, CA Google 4 donations: 0 to candidates, 4 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$1,400,000
45 Michele Singer Reiner, Beverly Hills, CA Entertainment, social activism 5 donations: 2 to candidates, 3 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$1,326,400
47 Brian L. Harvey, Los Angeles, CA Real estate 20 donations: 9 to candidates, 11 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$1,300,420

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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