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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 Nurses Association, Oakland, CA

Labor union


Win/loss percentage

25 percent

$1,807,284 to winners, $5,537,918 to losers

The California Nurses Association is a nurses union that has been key in promoting causes such as mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios (establishing a minimum number of nurses that have to be employed for a given number of patients in all California hospitals), rules governing what qualifications nurses need in order to work in certain departments, and protection for nurses who report unsafe conditions (so-called “whistleblower” protections). The 86,000-member union typically supports Democratic candidates; it supported Jerry Brown in his 2010 gubernatorial race against Republican Meg Whitman.

Total contributions: $8,195,212

1,493 donations: 1,340 to candidates, 113 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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