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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.


Stephen M. Silberstein, Belvedere, CA



Win/loss percentage

40 percent

$273,500 to winners, $411,100 to losers

Stephen M. Silberstein worked at the UC Berkeley library for 10 years during the 1970s before leaving to found Innovative Interfaces, a software company that creates technology for more than 700 college and university libraries. He eventually sold the company. He got his start at Berkeley automating records as a computer programmer for the library. Over the years he has remained involved in education, serving on the boards of the Belvedere-Tiburon Library Foundation, the University of California Berkeley Foundation and the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy. He also donated to the University of California library so that it could create the Free Speech Movement Endowment, which honors the work of Mario Savio, who was one of its leaders.

Total contributions: $1,335,000

53 donations: 37 to candidates, 9 to ballot measures and 7 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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