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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.


Philip Morris USA Inc., Richmond, VA

Tobacco company


Win/loss percentage

100 percent

$36,655,166 to winners, $76,762 to losers

Philip Morris USA makes 41 brands of cigarettes, including Marlboro, Virginia Slims and Parliament. The company was incorporated in 1902, and William F. Gifford Jr. serves as CEO and president. Much of Philip Morris' campaign contributions since 2000 went toward defeating Proposition 86 in 2006, which would have imposed a $2.60 excise tax on every pack of cigarettes. The measure was narrowly defeated. The company also gave money to the California Business PAC to campaign against 2010's Proposition 19, which would have legalized, taxed and regulated marijuana.

Total contributions: $39,553,382

364 donations: 286 to candidates, 67 to ballot measures and 11 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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