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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 School Employees Association, San Jose, CA

Labor union


Win/loss percentage

62 percent

$5,645,180 to winners, $3,519,710 to losers

The California School Employees Association is a California labor union representing nearly 220,000 "classified employees" from California public schools and community colleges. Classified employees are the support staff in schools that provide security, food, office, maintenance, transportation, library, media, computer and other non-teacher, non-administrator services. The association, which was founded in 1927 by a group of custodians and is run by member volunteers, lobbies on such issues as school funding, health care reform, retirement security, outsourcing, layoffs, school safety and pay. It is part of the AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 national and international unions.

Total contributions: $11,914,114

1,658 donations: 1,431 to candidates, 111 to ballot measures and 116 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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