Wednesday, May 5, 2004


President Bush helped Republicans raise at least $38.5 million yesterday at its annual gala all of it in donations limited in size and smash a one-night record set when political parties could still rake in large corporate contributions.

The Republican National Committee can spend the money as it chooses, from general party get-out-the-vote efforts to direct support for Mr. Bushs re-election campaign and party candidates down the ticket.

The gala total tops the roughly $30 million that Mr. Bush helped raise at a Republican congressional dinner and the RNC gala in 2002, the last year national party committees could collect “soft money” business, union and unlimited donations.

Now the national parties can raise only limited contributions from individuals and political action committees, which are funded by individuals. They can accept up to $25,000 per year from those donors. Last year, the RNC raised about $15 million at the gala.

About 1,500 people were expected to attend the RNCs event yesterday evening at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, which like the 2003 gala called for business attire rather than the tuxedos and gowns expected in previous years. Mr. Bush was to deliver the keynote address, and several Republican governors, senators and House members were on the guest list.

Several of the Bush campaigns fund-raising volunteers also helped raise money for the RNC event, including San Diego Chargers owner Sam Fox and Washington lobbyists Tom Loeffler and David Girard-diCarlo, who each raised at least $200,000 for the Bush re-election effort.

The record-setting night comes as Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Bush, first lady Laura Bush and others travel the country raising money for the RNC and other Republican causes. The three have helped the RNC raise roughly $17 million at “Victory” events around the nation since February, in addition to the millions from the gala.

The party has long enjoyed a multimillion-dollar advantage over the Democratic Party. But Democrats, too, have seen their finances pick up this year, even as the parties adjust to the soft-money ban that took effect after the November 2002 elections.

Sen. John Kerry, his partys presumptive nominee, has been helping the Democratic National Committee raise millions of dollars at party fund-raisers he has headlined in conjunction with his own money events.

Mr. Kerry and former Presidents Clinton and Carter helped the DNC take in roughly $11 million at its Washington gala in March, a Democratic Party record. The party committee has raised $24 million through other fund-raisers and additional efforts, such as Internet and direct-mail solicitations since Mr. Kerry all but secured the nomination March 2.

The DNC had about $40 million in the bank as of yesterday. The RNC had $53.9 million on hand as of March 31, the most recent figure available.

Until Mr. Bush took office, Mr. Clinton and then-Vice President Al Gore held the record for the most party money ever taken in through one event. They raised $26.5 million at a DNC barbecue in 2000, but much of that was soft money.

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