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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.


Merck & Co. Inc., Whitehouse Station, NJ

Pharmaceutical company


Win/loss percentage

79 percent

$236,000 to winners, $61,900 to losers

With 51,000 employees in 120 countries, Merck is one of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies. It currently has more than 40 products on the market. The company began as a subsidiary of a German company, but was seized during World War I and established as an independent company. The controversial anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, approved by the FDA in 1999, was a Merck product. In 2004, Vioxx was found to increase patients' risks of heart attacks. It was pulled off the market and Merck subsequently faced hundreds of lawsuits, many of which are still pending.

Total contributions: $10,189,760

220 donations: 215 to candidates, 3 to ballot measures and 2 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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