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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.


Sempra Energy, San Diego, CA

Energy company


Win/loss percentage

92 percent

$3,884,265 to winners, $342,872 to losers

Sempra Energy is the largest natural gas utility in the United States. It is divided into two divisions: Sempra Utilities, which encompasses the Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric, and Sempra Global. The corporation played a major role in California’s rolling blackouts of the early 2000s, allegedly creating fake energy shortages and skirting market rules. In April 2010, Sempra agreed to pay $410 million in settlement money, part of the $3.2 billion that California has negotiated in settlements from energy companies since the manufactured crisis.

Total contributions: $6,441,136

1,416 donations: 1,262 to candidates, 24 to ballot measures and 130 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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