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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.

Sacramento Bee

Thomas Steyer, San Francisco, CA

Investment management


Win/loss percentage

83 percent

$5,078,100 to winners, $1,056,300 to losers

Thomas Steyer founded and currently co-manages the hedge fund Farallon Capital Management, headquartered in San Francisco. He is also a managing partner at private equity firm Hellman & Friedman. Steyer has donated generously to Bay Area-based philanthropies. Steyer and his wife, Kat Taylor, opened OneCalifornia Bank, a community development bank in Oakland, in 2007. (OneCalifornia later acquired ShoreBank Pacific to become One PacificCoast Bank.) They own a 2,000-acre grass-fed cattle ranch in Pescadero, Calif. The couple gave $40 million to Stanford University for sustainable-energy research in 2009. Steyer is also a trustee at the university. In 2010, Steyer donated more than $6 million to oppose Proposition 23, a measure supported by oil companies that would have weakened the state's global warming law.

Total contributions: $6,144,400

12 donations: 6 to candidates, 5 to ballot measures and 1 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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