Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Big Donors Wrote $1.7 Billion in "Major Check" Campaign Contributions Last Five Years

Survey Cites Which Donors Spent the Most,
Where Individual Counties Rank

More than $1.7 billion in big checks of $5,000 or more have been written to influence California elections the past five years, according to a new analysis of state data compiled by proponents of Proposition 89 that would reduce the influence of special interest donors and level the playing field in elections.

Based on an analysis of campaign finance filings through the Political Reform Division of the California Secretary of State’s Office, the data documents both the tilt toward wealthy donors in California politics – the average check in the group was $33,000 – and the rapid escalation of political spending in the state – more than two-thirds of the biggest donations were made in the past three years.

The survey compiles 52,686 checks of $5,000 or more from January, 2001 through May 20, 2006, the latest date for which the full data set was available. The report was compiled by the California Nurses Association, the sponsors of Prop. 89.

Major findings include:
  • A total of $1,741,838,790 was contributed to all statewide candidates and initiatives. The data set includes some checks written by big donors to initiative political action committees from which money was re-routed in separate checks to initiative campaigns. The list is headed by a $14.25 million contribution by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade association representing big drug companies, in the 2005 special election. The top 20 includes tribes, other drug companies, the California Teachers Association Issues PAC, and gubernatorial candidates Steve Westly and William Simon.
  • Sacramento County, home of the so-called “Third House” or the state’s lobbying industry, topped all other counties as a source of political contributions, accounting for 25% of all $5,000-plus donations the past five years. The survey includes the top five donors for every county.
  • About 16% of large political contributions to California campaigns came from outside the state, led by the District of Columbia, source of $83.4 million in political donations the past five years.
CNA noted that the spending has continued at breakneck pace since the full data set was available. For example, recent checks in the Prop. 86 and 87 campaigns by Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, Chevron, Aera Energy, and producer Stephen Bing, would have qualified for the top 20, and spending in the governor’s race and other contests would push the contribution total well past $1.8 billion.

“Every day the wide chasm between wealthy donors and ordinary Californians in the political process becomes more glaring,” said CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro. “The biggest contributors dominate the system, and reap the benefits with legislation, vetoes, regulations, and other public policies from politicians who are dependent on the interests who write the largest checks.”

DeMoro emphasized the public consequences of the tilt of big money in the political system. “California families pay the price every day in higher gas prices, utility bills, and health care costs, inadequate funding for our schools, and weaker environmental protections. Only through Prop. 89 can we put an end to this legalized bribery, level the playing field in our elections, and make our politicians accountable to regular voters.”

Proposition 89 would change the face of California politics with tougher limits on contributions to candidates, political committees, and initiative campaigns, and thus end the dependence of candidates on contributions from those writing the biggest checks.

The initiative would also provide voluntary public financing for candidates who reject special interest fundraising, enabling regular Californians to run for office and win, even if they are not connected to special interest donors and lobbyists. It contains tough penalties for candidates who break the law, including jail time and removal from office. It is based on a successful system now in place in Arizona, Maine, and Connecticut.

Endorsers of Prop. 89 include the League of Women Voters of California, the Sierra Club, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, California Common Cause, the California Clean Money Campaign, Latino National Congress, Sen. Barbara Boxer, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

All information in the Contribution Database is from the California Secretary of State, Political Reform Division. With information on all contributions made. The database shows all the checks written.

The Contribution Database is based on Form F460 Schedules A (Monetary Contributions Received) and C (Non-Monetary Contributions Received). All contributions received by a committee must be reported on these forms. The CNA analysis includes all contributions of $5,000 and higher.