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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.


Donald G. Fisher, San Francisco, CA

The Gap Inc.


Win/loss percentage

75 percent

$689,309 to winners, $232,333 to losers

Donald G. Fisher, who died of cancer in 2009, was a lifelong San Francisco resident. Fisher worked for his family's cabinet business and in real estate before opening the clothing store that became the Gap in 1969. Fisher also was a founding member of the Presidio Trust in San Francisco. He served as a governor of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and spent $100 million to buy a stake in the San Francisco Giants to keep the team from moving. He and his wife, Doris, also lobbied to prevent the sale of the former Presidio Army base to private developers; the site is now a public park. A moderate Republican, Fisher helped finance Teach for America. He and his wife made numerous philanthropic donations ­– one of the largest was $60 million to the nonprofit charter school operator KIPP. Fisher was an art collector and a major donor to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The couple was also active in the San Francisco Jewish community.

Total contributions: $1,279,642

64 donations: 47 to candidates, 14 to ballot measures and 3 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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