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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.

John T. Chambers, Los Altos, CA

Cisco Systems


Win/loss percentage

44 percent

$266,200 to winners, $337,572 to losers

In 2008, Time Magazine named John Chambers one of the world’s most influential people, citing his innovation at Cisco. Under his watch the company’s annual revenue reached $40 billion in 2011. Over the past 10 years he has donated regularly to both the California Democratic Party and the California Republican Party, although he donated more to the latter. Chambers has served on the Trade Policy Committee under President Bill Clinton and on the Education Committee and the National Infrastructure Advisory Council under President George W. Bush. He received the Clinton Global Citizen Award for encouraging his employees to donate money and skills to aid in disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and the Indonesia tsunami.

Total contributions: $1,264,572

94 donations: 59 to candidates, 7 to ballot measures and 28 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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