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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.


Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Palm Springs, CA

Tribal government with gaming interests


Win/loss percentage

62 percent

$23,127,444 to winners, $13,912,874 to losers

The Agua Caliente Band is a federally recognized tribe of Cahuilla Indians, based in Riverside County. The tribe, founded in 1896, operates casinos in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage. The Agua Caliente Band was one of the tribes that benefited from the slate of gaming compact ballot measures voters approved in 2008. The measures allowed four tribes – who poured nearly $110 million into the campaigns – to operate additional slot machines.

Total contributions: $38,348,438

1,449 donations: 1,360 to candidates, 32 to ballot measures and 57 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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