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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.


Pfizer Inc., New York, NY

Pharmaceutical company


Win/loss percentage

79 percent

$735,982 to winners, $200,000 to losers

Pfizer is a pharmaceutical giant, ranking No. 1 in sales worldwide. Pfizer’s main products are Lipitor (used to lower blood cholesterol), Lyrica (neuropathic pain drug), Zithromax (antibiotic), Viagra (used to treat erectile dysfunction) and Celebrex (anti-inflammatory drug). In 2009, Pfizer pleaded guilty to health care fraud and received the largest criminal penalty ever levied for illegal marketing of four of its drugs. The settlement was Pfizer’s fourth with the U.S. Department of Justice in the past 10 years.

Total contributions: $11,605,296

490 donations: 432 to candidates, 8 to ballot measures and 50 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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