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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.


GlaxoSmithKline, London, England

Pharmaceutical company


Win/loss percentage

81 percent

$761,018 to winners, $181,318 to losers

Based in London, GlaxoSmithKline was born in 2000 out of a merger between the pharmaceutical giants Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham. After Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, it is the third-largest pharmaceutical company in the world. Among its notable donations, it gave $9.8 million to support Proposition 78 and defeat Proposition 79 in 2005. Both initiatives aimed to establish a prescription drug discount program to help low-income families, but Proposition 79 offered more benefits for patients and increased punishments for “profiteering” drug companies. Both failed at the polls.

Total contributions: $10,945,786

727 donations: 701 to candidates, 7 to ballot measures and 19 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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