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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.


Robert "Bob" W. Wilson, Brooklyn, NY



Win/loss percentage

0 percent

$0 to winners, $4,000,100 to losers

Robert Wilson retired in 1986 after accumulating a great deal of wealth as an investor. He supported Republican John McCain’s run for the presidency in 2008. That same year, he contributed to the campaign against Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California, and supported Proposition 5, which would have modified sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug offenses. He has contributed millions to various philanthropies, including Catholic schools, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Environmental Defense Fund, as part of his pledge to give most of his wealth to worthy causes before he dies.

Total contributions: $4,000,100

5 donations: 0 to candidates, 5 to ballot measures and 0 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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