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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.


Aera Energy, Bakersfield, CA

Energy company (oil, natural gas)


Win/loss percentage

100 percent

$32,860,243 to winners, $25,000 to losers

Jointly owned by Shell and ExxonMobil, Aera Energy is one of the largest oil and natural gas producers in the state; it accounts for 25 percent of California's output. More than 90 percent of Aera's contributions since 2000 went toward defeating Proposition 87 in 2006. The ballot measure would have levied taxes on oil producers to fund alternative energy research. The Yes on 87 campaign sued the No on 87 campaign for deceptive advertising because the ads against the measure did not state that the campaign was funded by Aera and Chevron. Instead, the ads stated: "Paid for by Californians Against Higher Taxes."

Total contributions: $33,435,243

33 donations: 0 to candidates, 33 to ballot measures and 0 to parties

List of contributions

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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