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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.


San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Highland, CA

Tribal government with gaming interests


Win/loss percentage

12 percent

$1,502,270 to winners, $11,313,920 to losers

The tribe, founded in 1891, is heavily invested in its 10,000-square-foot casino in Highland, Calif. The San Manuel Band spent $11 million to support Proposition 70 in 2004. The proposition, which failed, would have altered the state's agreement with tribes, entering a new 99-year compact with tribes, effectively expanding exclusive tribal casino gambling. The tribe has donated fairly evenly to the two major parties, giving $1.1 million to the state GOP and $965,000 to the California Democratic Party. The tribe is also a member of the California Online Poker Association, a group lobbying to legalize Internet poker. While several tribes are part of the association, others are opposed to the effort.

Total contributions: $14,982,690

610 donations: 542 to candidates, 10 to ballot measures and 58 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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