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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.

Sacramento Bee

Charles R. Schwab, Woodwide, CA

Brokerage and banking


Win/loss percentage

26 percent

$109,850 to winners, $311,700 to losers

Charles Schwab founded the Charles Schwab Corp., a leading brokerage and banking company headquartered in San Francisco. Schwab and his wife, Helen, have been leading donors to Republican campaigns for more than a decade. Schwab’s entrepreneurial career took off in 1963, when he and two partners launched Investment Indicator, an investment newsletter that eventually had 3,000 subscribers. In 1971, the company incorporated as First Commander Corp. Schwab and four others purchased parent company Commander Industries in 1972, which became Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. in 1973. The company currently serves more than 8 million brokerage accounts. Forbes listed Schwab as the 67th-richest American in 2011. He has supported philanthropy related to dyslexia, which both he and his son have, and the privatization of Social Security.

Total contributions: $2,956,550

43 donations: 10 to candidates, 2 to ballot measures and 31 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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