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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 Motor Car Dealers Association, Sacramento, CA

Trade association


Win/loss percentage

97 percent

$6,728,040 to winners, $197,937 to losers

Also known as the California New Car Dealers Association, this trade group has represented the interests of franchised car and truck dealers in the state for almost 90 years. The group represents more than 1,200 dealer members, making it the largest state association of car dealers in the country. Their largest political play happened in 2002, when they spent more than $5 million in support of Proposition 64 -- an initiative that limited the circumstances under which private companies could be sued for unfair business practices. The initiative passed, with its supporters outspending its opponents almost 8 to 1. Otherwise, the group has limited its political spending mostly to candidate contributions, supporting both Democrats and Republicans.

Total contributions: $7,274,551

1,270 donations: 1,238 to candidates, 13 to ballot measures and 19 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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