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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.


Bradley Wayne Hughes, Lexington, KY

Public Storage


Win/loss percentage

12 percent

$185,600 to winners, $1,356,100 to losers

Bradley Wayne Hughes founded the self-storage company Public Storage in Glendale, Calif., in 1972. Today, Public Storage has more than 2,100 locations worldwide. With a $200 million donation, Hughes helped found the Parker Hughes Cancer Center in Minnesota, which was named after his late son. The center researched children’s leukemia and other forms of child cancer until it filed for bankruptcy in 2007. Hughes is a major donor to Republican candidates and in 2010 contributed more than $3 million to American Crossroads, a conservative political organization started by Karl Rove. Hughes also owns and breeds thoroughbred racing horses.

Total contributions: $2,276,700

20 donations: 9 to candidates, 5 to ballot measures and 6 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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