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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.


Peter V. Sperling, Phoenix, AZ

University of Phoenix


Win/loss percentage

1 percent

$109,600 to winners, $9,003,000 to losers

Peter Sperling's father, John G. Sperling, founded of the University of Phoenix in 1976. In 1983, Peter Sperling joined the successful endeavor as director of management information services. Over the years, he has increased his wealth by buying and selling stock and founding communications companies Communication Services Inc. and CallWave Inc. In California, Sperling was a major donor to Proposition 7, a 2008 ballot measure that would have required California utilities to obtain half of their power from renewable resources by 2025. The proposition failed.

Total contributions: $9,155,000

24 donations: 13 to candidates, 7 to ballot measures and 4 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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