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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.

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.

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
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
37 Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA Environmental advocacy group 55 donations: 0 to candidates, 55 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$7,988,856
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
13 Robert "Bob" W. Wilson, Brooklyn, NY Investor 5 donations: 0 to candidates, 5 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$4,000,100
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
38 John T. Walton, Jackson, WY Investor and philanthropist 21 donations: 12 to candidates, 9 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$1,461,525
43 Sergey Brin, Los Altos, CA Google 4 donations: 0 to candidates, 4 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
$1,400,000

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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