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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.


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.

1 Stephen L. Bing, Los Angeles, CA Screenwriter and movie producer 56 donations: 23 to candidates, 19 to ballot measures and 14 to parties
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
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
5 Peter V. Sperling, Phoenix, AZ University of Phoenix 24 donations: 13 to candidates, 7 to ballot measures and 4 to parties
48 National Education Association, Washington, DC Labor union 8 donations: 0 to candidates, 8 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
11 James E. Holman, Coronado, CA Publishing 74 donations: 9 to candidates, 65 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
13 Robert "Bob" W. Wilson, Brooklyn, NY Investor 5 donations: 0 to candidates, 5 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
15 William A. Robinson Business executive 20 donations: 9 to candidates, 9 to ballot measures and 2 to parties
21 George Soros, Westchester, NY Investment management 8 donations: 1 to candidates, 7 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
23 Jerry L. Keenan, Fair Oaks, CA Auto insurance 36 donations: 7 to candidates, 29 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
32 John G. Sperling, Phoenix, AZ University of Phoenix 22 donations: 12 to candidates, 6 to ballot measures and 4 to parties
37 Don Sebastiani, Sonoma, CA Wine 37 donations: 22 to candidates, 15 to ballot measures and 0 to parties
45 Michele Singer Reiner, Beverly Hills, CA Entertainment, social activism 5 donations: 2 to candidates, 3 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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