Calif. Donor Sets Record

By Josh Richman

Published November 03, 2006, issue of November 03, 2006.

Stephen Bing is already known as a multimillionaire real estate heir, movie mogul, prominent playboy and perennial paparazzi prey. Now you can add “record-setting political donor” to the list.

Bing, 41, of Los Angeles, has put a whopping $40 million into California’s Proposition 87, a measure on November’s ballot that would impose a tax on oil produced in California and use the estimated $4 billion this month raised to fund alternative energy research and development. The goal of the measure is to reduce the state’s consumption of both gas and diesel by a quarter over the next decade.

Bing, grandson of New York City real estate magnate Leo S. Bing and heir to an estimated $600 million, already was no slouch in ponying up for politics, having given about $16 million to the Kerry-Edwards ticket and to elated Democratic causes in 2003 and 2004. But his Proposition 87 stake beats businessman Al Checchi’s out-of-pocket spending to his failed 1998 Democratic gubernatorial primary bid to set a record for the most ever spent by an individual on a single California candidacy or cause.

California Common Cause policy advocate Ned Wigglesworth told the Sacramento Bee that Bing’s stake exceeds what entire industries sometimes spend on ballot measures. “It’s ridiculous that one person thinks they have a right to assert so much influence over public policy because they have the money to do so…. This is a power grab, albeit a well-intentioned power grab, by a rich guy.”

Bing has given plenty to environmental causes in the past, but why this one? Maybe it just made tremendous sense to him, or perhaps it’s because Anthony Rubenstein — who came up with the idea — and Bing were high-school buddies in Beverly Hills. The notoriously media-shy Bing won’t grant interviews to discuss it, or anything else.

That’s not surprising, considering media accounts of his current largess still recall his 2002 lawsuit against actress Elizabeth Hurley to determine whether he’d fathered her child (a DNA test later proved he had). He made other headlines that year as billionaire Kirk Kerkorian claimed that Bing was the biological father of a daughter raised by Kerkorian and his ex-wife, Lisa Bender; that case was settled secretly.

Rubenstein needs every cent of Bing’s contribution, for they’ve picked a costly fight: Oil companies led by San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron Corp. have pumped about $90 million of their own into the campaign against Proposition 87. They claim that it would raise gas prices, although Rubenstein’s camp notes the measure explicitly prohibits oil companies from passing the added cost to customers at the pumps; they also say it would drive oil companies out of California and so increase dependence on foreign oil, while creating a new bureaucracy of political appointees to oversee the tax.



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