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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 Professional Firefighters, Sacramento, CA

Labor union


Win/loss percentage

61 percent

$3,643,453 to winners, $2,360,024 to losers

Made up of more than 30,000 members with 175 local affiliates, California Professional Firefighters is the state council for the International Association of Fire Fighters union. The IAFF represents 298,000 firefighters nationally. California Professional Firefighters endorses candidates and lobbies in Sacramento on behalf of its members. More than half of its donations, $5.5 million, went to Democrats in the state. It spent an additional $950,000 opposing Proposition 75 in 2005, which would have required public employees to get written consent from members each year before spending those dues on political contributions.

Total contributions: $8,653,027

2,708 donations: 2,313 to candidates, 233 to ballot measures and 162 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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