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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.


Eli Lilly and Co., Indianapolis, IN

Pharmaceutical Company


Win/loss percentage

84 percent

$771,753 to winners, $149,998 to losers

Eli Lilly is a global pharmaceutical company based in Indianapolis, with offices in 17 other countries. Founded in 1876 by its namesake, Eli Lilly, the company was one of the first to mass-produce penicillin. In 2005, Eli Lilly joined with several other pharmaceutical companies to support Proposition 78 and oppose Proposition 79. Eli Lilly donated $4.5 million to a committee supporting 78 and opposing 79. Each of the measures would have created a discount prescription drug program in the state. Voters rejected both measures.

Total contributions: $5,706,051

668 donations: 647 to candidates, 4 to ballot measures and 17 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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