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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.

24

George Joseph, Los Angeles, CA

Insurance

Badges

Win/loss percentage

38 percent

$122,300 to winners, $200,000 to losers

George Joseph is the founder of the Mercury Insurance Group and has pushed heavily for insurance agencies to use ZIP codes rather than driving records as the key indicators to calculate insurance rates. He founded the company as Mercury General in Los Angeles in 1962, targeting customers who had difficulty getting insured. He took the company public in 1980 and is still chairman of the board. In 2010, his company almost entirely funded Proposition 17, which would have allowed insurance providers to offer “persistency discounts” to drivers with a consistent history of coverage and effectively penalize those with a lapse in coverage. It was defeated.

Total contributions: $2,317,300

14 donations: 1 to candidates, 4 to ballot measures and 9 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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