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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.


Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000, Sacramento, CA

Labor union


Win/loss percentage

59 percent

$4,388,188 to winners, $3,023,803 to losers

The statewide organization represents the more than 700,000 Service Employees International Union members in California. SEIU, a national labor union with 2.2 million members founded in 1921, primarily represents workers in health care, long-term care, building services, and state and local government. The California State Council works in all 58 counties in the state. It has given overwhelmingly to Democrats, donating $8.2 million, and spent more than $10 million opposing Proposition 75 in 2005, which failed. The measure would have prohibited public employee labor unions from directly spending dues on political contributions without prior written consent from individual public employees.

Total contributions: $9,938,290

414 donations: 303 to candidates, 45 to ballot measures and 66 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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