Founded by the Center for Investigative Reporting

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.

Adopt a state

We want you to steal our platform.

Keeping with our goal to build tools that benefit not only us, but also the broader journalism and transparency community, we've built the underlying platform that powers this application to work in any state. Because we're relying on standardized data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which transforms data from multiple states into a single consistent format, we can just as easily deploy a copy of our Rainmaker app in Vermont, Idaho or Texas as we did in California – visualizations, badges and all.

If you're interested in adopting a copy of Rainmaker for your state, contact CIR's director of technology, Chase Davis, at cdavis@cironline.org. Getting up and running will require some non-technical work on your end, such as:

  • Cleaning up donation records: The system will produce a list of top donors in a given state, but sometimes, donation records have to be cleaned up by hand in order to detect outliers. We can show you how to do this, and we've built a simple interface into the system that makes it a bit easier.
  • Researching and writing biographies: If you want biographical information to appear for the donors in your state, you'll have to research it yourself. We have an interface that makes plugging it into the system easy, but the leg work is up to you.
  • Paying for hosting and domain costs: We host our apps on Heroku, which can either be free or not, depending on your traffic. We'll also need a domain at which to park the application.

If you're technically inclined, we also can help you modify the basic application to accommodate specific needs in your state. Adopting Rainmaker in your state is a great way to show the public some of the context behind your local political influence. Let us know if you'd like to take part!

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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