- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

President Bush yesterday began his political fund-raising campaign for 2004, headlining a Republican dinner that raised as much as $20 million for congressional candidates.

More than 7,000 Republicans, including dozens of House and Senate members running for re-election, attended the President’s Dinner at the new Washington Convention Center. The menu was filet mignon and the national anthem was performed by the Oak Ridge Boys.

“This Congress, instead of endless bickering and needless partisanship, has focused on … doing right for the American people,” Mr. Bush told the crowd. “We’ve come a long way in two-and-a-half years, but we’ve got a lot more work to do.”

Mr. Bush is seeking to capitalize on his popularity with voters — recent polls show about 70 percent of Americans approve of Mr. Bush’s performance as president — in an effort to keep Republicans in control of both congressional chambers.

Mr. Bush’s popularity can be quantified in cash: The two groups that threw the dinner, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), expected to raise about $10 million.

The NRCC is likely to take the lion’s share of the night’s receipts. By yesterday afternoon, the NRCC had sold $11.5 million worth of tickets to the event, while NRSC had pulled in $6.7 million for the dinner, according to congressional sources.

The House leadership asked its members to raise at least $25,000 each or sell at least one 10-seat table for the $2,500-per-ticket event.

The president helped Republicans raise more than $140 million last year as they maintained their majority in the House and regained control of the Senate in midterm elections.

But under a new campaign-finance law that went into effect in November, limits on individual donors restrict donations to no more than $25,000 per year of “hard money” to the national parties.

Dinner participants were limited last night to donations of $2,500.

A district court this month struck down part of the “soft-money” ban on national party committees as an unconstitutional violation of free-speech rights. The court, however, announced this week it would block its ruling from taking effect pending a Supreme Court review, which is not expected until the fall.

Until then, both parties are still restricted. The soft-money ban kept the GOP from reaching or exceeding its record $30 million haul at the same dinner last year.

Since campaign-finance regulations were passed in the wake of the Watergate scandals, hard money — individual donations to candidates — has been more tightly regulated than soft-money donations to national party committees by individuals or corporations.

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