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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 Correctional Peace Officers Association, West Sacramento, CA

Labor union


Win/loss percentage

59 percent

$6,163,100 to winners, $4,260,413 to losers

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association is the union representing about 30,000 state prison guards. Founded in 1957, it is one of the most influential unions in the state. In 2005, the association was instrumental in defeating then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's reform initiatives, including a ballot measure that would have required public employee unions to get written consent from members before spending dues money on political activities. The union has contributed to both Democrats and Republicans and donates to campaigns through four political action committees.

Total contributions: $13,978,123

1,157 donations: 1,007 to candidates, 47 to ballot measures and 103 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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