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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. Walton, Jackson, WY

Investor and philanthropist


Win/loss percentage

53 percent

$776,925 to winners, $684,600 to losers

John T. Walton was an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune who died in a 2005 plane crash in Grand Teton National Park. He was an investor and philanthropist who focused on education efforts for low-income children and advocated for school vouchers. Walton was the second of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s three sons. He donated $400,000 to support Proposition 49 in 2002. It passed and increased funding for after-school programs. In 1998, he founded the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which provides money for low-income families to send their children to private schools.

Total contributions: $1,461,525

21 donations: 12 to candidates, 9 to ballot measures and 0 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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