Washington President Bush helped the GOP raise at least $38.5 million Wednesday 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 Bush's re-election campaign and other GOP candidates.
Bush, the keynote speaker, took the stage and shook the hands of several major RNC fund-raisers, including boxing promoter Don King, who waved two American flags. Bush thanked the crowd for setting a record.
"It's important to have enough fuel to make sure the grass roots are activated as we come down the stretch next fall," Bush told his cheering audience.
He drew more applause and laughter with several digs at Democratic challenger John Kerry during the half-hour speech.
"We should not take him lightly. He's an experienced senator who's built up quite a record," Bush said of Kerry, without naming him. "He's been in Washington long enough to take both sides on just about every issue."
The gala total tops the roughly $30 million 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 people. 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 attended the RNC's event at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, which like the 2003 gala called for business attire rather than the tuxedos and gowns of previous years. Several GOP governors, senators and House members attended, as did Cabinet secretaries Gale Norton, Ann Veneman, Spencer Abraham and Tommy Thompson.