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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.


Pala Band of Mission Indians, Pala, CA

Tribal government with gaming interests


Win/loss percentage

35 percent

$7,076,735 to winners, $13,189,119 to losers

A relatively small tribe – about 1,000 members – the Pala Band of Mission Indians was founded in 1901. The Pala Casino, on a 12,000-acre reservation in north San Diego County, has motivated much of the tribe's political spending. A large part of those donations went to efforts to defeat four state ballot measures in 2008 that allowed four larger tribes to increase their number of slot machines. All four propositions passed. The Pala Band also has fought efforts to legalize online gaming, which has been backed by some other tribes.

Total contributions: $20,368,354

109 donations: 77 to candidates, 27 to ballot measures and 5 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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