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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.


Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Washington, DC

Pharmaceuticals and biotechnology lobbying group


Win/loss percentage

53 percent

$37,554,836 to winners, $33,486,675 to losers

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, represents dozens of pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. It was established in 1958 and is led by President and CEO John J. Castellani. Billy Tauzin, who joined PhRMA after pushing 2003's Medicare bill through Congress as a Republican representative from Louisiana, was its CEO until resigning in 2010. In California, PhRMA contributed more than $70 million in 2005 to defeat Proposition 79 and pass Proposition 78. Both initiatives aimed to establish a prescription drug discount program to help low-income families, but Prop. 79 offered more benefits for patients and increased punishments for "profiteering" drug companies. Both initiatives failed.

Total contributions: $71,608,063

552 donations: 203 to candidates, 311 to ballot measures and 38 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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