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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.


R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Winston-Salem, NC

Tobacco company


Win/loss percentage

100 percent

$25,604,324 to winners, $44,900 to losers

The company behind Camel cigarettes, R.J. Reynolds accounts for about 28 percent of cigarette sales in the United States. The firm, led by President Andrew D. Gilchrist, has been heavily involved in California politics – especially when a tobacco-related bill is on the ballot. In 2006, R.J. Reynolds spent $25 million to defeat Proposition 86, which would have imposed a $2.60 tax on each pack of cigarettes to fund health-related programs and services. Those donations account for the vast majority of the company's contributions in California.

Total contributions: $25,850,024

354 donations: 251 to candidates, 84 to ballot measures and 19 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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