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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.


William E. Oberndorf, San Francisco, CA

Investment management


Win/loss percentage

40 percent

$276,800 to winners, $416,528 to losers

William Oberndorf co-founded the Mill Valley, Calif., investment firm SPO Advisory Corp. with two former Stanford University Business School classmates. Oberndorf, originally from Cleveland, graduated from Williams College in 1975 and received his MBA from Stanford in 1978. SPO provides financial services to university endowments, foundations and similar entities. Oberndorf serves as chairman of the UC San Francisco Foundation and serves on boards of other nonprofits, as well as companies.

Total contributions: $1,518,328

47 donations: 37 to candidates, 6 to ballot measures and 4 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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