Producer ranks as one of the top political donors

With a whopping $40-million contribution to a California environmental initiative, Steve Bing‘s investments in politics are starting to rival those he’s made in the entertainment industry.

The press-shy producer chipped in $80 million to make Warner Bros. “Polar Express,” and has invested in Paramount’s upcoming tentpole “Beowulf,” in addition to his own forays into writing and directing (he received story credit on “Kangaroo Jack.”)

But on the national stage he ranks as one of the country’s top political donors.

In fact, Bing’s donation to Yes on 87, the oil tax initiative on the California ballot, may be the largest individual donation to any campaign, state or national. The only exceptions are several gubernatorial candidates who have self-financed their own bids, says Rachel Weiss of the Institute on Money in State Politics.

Other deep-pocketed backers, like Indian tribes and the pharmaceutical companies, have put up big bucks to finance other initiatives, “but even that isn’t rivaling the $40 million,” she says.

On a national level, it even dwarfs the $23.4 million that George Soros gave to independent advocacy groups (known as 527s) in 2004, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

With a huge family fortune (his grandfather, Leo S. Bing, was a legendary New York real estate investor), Bing has been a top contributor to Democrats and environmental causes for much of this decade.

According to the Yes on 87 campaign, the man who came up with the idea for Proposition 87, Anthony Rubenstein, was a high school classmate of Bing’s, and sought his help to counter oil companies’ funding to defeat the measure.

Bing’s contributions “amount to his effort to level the playing field,” says Yes on 87 spokesman Yusef Robb.

But Robb couldn’t say whether Bing would invest more, as he may have simply upped the ante. Oil companies have been pouring millions more into their No on 87 campaign in recent days.

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