Most of the political money flowing from California to Washington originates in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, but there are fat campaign checks being sent from the Valley, too.
The big donors here — rather unsurprisingly — are farmers and real estate magnates, and most of their cash goes to Republican interests, according to a recent report on federal campaign contributions during last year's election cycle.
Though these contributors may be expected, they inhabit a rarified place in American politics.
DATABASE: Search a database of elite donors from the central San Joaquin Valley and see where their money goes.
The report, by the nonpartisan watchdog group Sunlight Foundation, calls attention to the relatively small number of people who are making a relatively large number of the nation's contributions: 28% are from "1% of the 1%," or 31,385 out of 314 million people nationwide, the report states.
It's the most money spent by such a small percent in modern election history, the report finds.
Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, says the upshot of this is that a few wealthy people are pulling the strings in Washington.
"These elite donors are the gatekeepers of public office," Drutman said. "They determine who can and who can't run, and they set the agenda for what the priorities are."
Dozens of residents in the central San Joaquin Valley counties of Fresno, Tulare, Madera and Kings are among the elite "1% of the 1%." Thirty-six are from the city of Fresno.
The average contribution of these donors nationally was $26,584 last year, though many gave much more, according to the report.
Robert Klein, president of real estate company Klein Financial Corp. and the famous backer of the state's stem-cell research initiative Proposition 71, was the biggest giver in the Valley. He contributed $301,050 during the 2012 election cycle, all to Democrats.
Klein, who identifies as a Fresno resident, also spends a lot of time in Palo Alto.
Businessman Richard Spencer, who owns Harris Construction and is known for his support of former U.S. Rep. George Radanovich, gave the second-biggest amount of money in the Valley: $213,400. It went almost entirely to Republican interests.
And rancher John Harris, owner of Harris Farms and one of the region's most active Republicans, gave the third most: $182,748.
None of the top three donors nor several other leading contributors returned calls from The Bee for comment.
Among the Valley's top 20 donors, at least half work in agriculture, while 25% work in construction or real estate, according to the Sunlight report.
About 75% of their contributions went to Republican causes. Klein was the only person among the 20 who didn't give the majority of his money to Republicans.
David Schecter, professor of political science at Fresno State, said the partisan tilt makes sense.
Republicans in Washington are more friendly to policies that benefit the Valley's leading industries of agriculture and construction, often seeking to prevent costly regulation, Schecter said.
According to the Sunlight report, the bulk of the Valley's big contributions went to party committees (as opposed to candidates or political action committees).
This money, Schecter said, generally goes nationwide to help get Republican candidates elected and promote the GOP agenda while, at the same time, it ensures each contributor a say in what's on the agenda.
"When these people call, Devin Nunes (Republican congressman from Tulare) will pick up the phone," Schecter said.
"There's a lot of status that comes with giving," he added, "and the folks on this (big donor) list have that status and will use it to their personal and economic advantage."
California had more people among the "1% of the 1%" than any other state, accounting for 4,617 of the 31,385 big donors, according to the Sunlight report. California's big contributors gave a collective $239 million.
Peter Thiel, a San Francisco venture capitalist and hedge fund manager, was the state's biggest giver, donating $4.8 million during last year's election cycle. Former Univision CEO and Fresno native Jerry Perenchio, businessman Charles Munger and filmmaker Steven Spielberg also were near the top.
Both Los Angeles and San Francisco ranked among the nation's top 10 cities for political giving.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6679, firstname.lastname@example.org or @KurtisInValley on Twitter.