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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.


Mercury General Corp., Los Angeles, CA

Auto insurance


Win/loss percentage

7 percent

$1,227,250 to winners, $16,759,258 to losers

Mercury General, headquartered in Los Angeles, was founded by George Joseph in 1961 and operates in 12 states but primarily in California. It provided most of the funding for Proposition 17, a 2010 state ballot measure that would have allowed insurers to offer discounts based on years of continuous coverage, but effectively would have penalized drivers with a lapse in coverage. The measure was narrowly defeated, 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent.

Total contributions: $19,176,108

540 donations: 469 to candidates, 37 to ballot measures and 34 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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