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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.


California Chamber of Commerce, Sacramento, CA

Business lobbyst


Win/loss percentage

49 percent

$2,799,753 to winners, $2,867,193 to losers

The California Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit advocacy group and resource center for businesses in the state. Made up of more than 13,000 members, three-fourths of businesses in the chamber have fewer than 100 employees. But the organization also includes larger companies, such as Walt Disney Corp. and Microsoft. The group actively lobbies the federal and state governments on behalf of its members. It donates to federal and state campaigns, endorses political candidates and sponsors ballot measures. It also produces an annual list of “job killer” bills that the group believes would have a negative impact on California’s economy.

Total contributions: $10,319,687

512 donations: 386 to candidates, 86 to ballot measures and 40 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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