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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.

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.

4 Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, Temecula, CA Tribal government with gaming interests 1,182 donations: 1,054 to candidates, 47 to ballot measures and 81 to parties
8 Philip Morris USA Inc., Richmond, VA Tobacco company 364 donations: 286 to candidates, 67 to ballot measures and 11 to parties
10 Aera Energy, Bakersfield, CA Energy company (oil, natural gas) 33 donations: 0 to candidates, 33 to ballot measures and 0 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
16 League of California Cities, Sacramento, CA Lobbying group 109 donations: 0 to candidates, 109 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
19 Edison International, Rosemead, CA Energy company 90 donations: 61 to candidates, 7 to ballot measures and 22 to parties
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
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
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
42 California Motor Car Dealers Association, Sacramento, CA Trade association 1,270 donations: 1,238 to candidates, 13 to ballot measures and 19 to parties
19 Robert N. Klein II, Fresno, CA Real estate investment 32 donations: 16 to candidates, 15 to ballot measures and 1 to parties
20 Ann Howland Doerr, Woodside, CA Environmental advocacy group 34 donations: 25 to candidates, 6 to ballot measures and 3 to parties
29 Bruce E. Harrington, Newport Beach, CA 15 donations: 2 to candidates, 13 to ballot measures and 0 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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