updated 3/19/2004 4:59:37 PM ET 2004-03-19T21:59:37

President Bush’s fund-raising juggernaut has reached its goal of raising $150 million to $170 million, a record campaign fortune Bush is starting to tap for ads costing millions of dollars.

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Bush started March with $110 million in the bank to use against Democratic nominee-to-be John Kerry as Kerry emerged from the primaries.

The Bush campaign spent $49.4 million from its launch last May through February, mostly on overhead, fund-raising costs such as direct mail and events, and other groundwork as Bush prepared to face his Democratic opponent. That included $8 million spent last month.

Bush’s first big wave of spending won’t be fully detailed until he files his March campaign finance report late next month. He has spent at least $17.5 million on television and radio ads this month.

Bush took in $14 million last month and has raised more than $8 million so far this month, a February campaign finance report filed Friday and donations posted on his campaign Web site through March 9 show. The campaign held several fund-raisers in the past week and continued raising money online, putting it safely at or possibly even over the $170 million mark.

As March began, Bush, with no GOP rival, had raised $159.4 million.

Kerry plans 20-city fund-raising tour
Kerry, emerging from the primaries with his campaign treasury largely spent, plans a 20-city fund-raising tour over the next few months and is aggressively pursuing donations over the Internet to try to counter Bush’s fortune. Kerry hopes to hit about $105 million by his party’s nominating convention, a total that would include about $80 million in contributions this year and about $25 million last year.

A Bush spokesman declined to say whether Bush will soon stop holding fund-raisers for himself. Many supporters think he could easily take in $200 million.

“Stay tuned,” spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

Bush appears to be leaving his fund-raising options open. Campaign officials have noted that outside groups are running millions of dollars’ worth of ads in battleground states supporting Kerry and opposing Bush.

One of them, the Media Fund, on Friday disclosed the names of its donors. It raised at least $3.4 million from November through March, much of it in six- and seven-figure donations.

Those included $1 million each from Ohio business executive Peter Lewis and Hollywood executive Steve Bing and $500,000 each from Newsweb CEO Fred Eychaner, Hollywood producer Marcey Carsey and wealthy Democratic donor Anne Earhart. Other givers included actors Paul Newman, $25,000; Kevin Bacon, $7,500; and Chevy Chase, $2,500.

“It’s clear that those groups have a lot of money potentially,” Bush spokesman Terry Holt said. “We have to be prepared to get our message out in that context.”

Helping fellow Republicans
Others on the Bush team, including Vice President Dick Cheney and former President George H.W. Bush, have so far taken on most of the campaign’s fund raising for fellow Republicans.

Bush is expected to assume a bigger role in the near future, and no one can raise money for the party and its candidates like the president: Bush raised a presidential record $136 million for fellow Republicans in the 2002 election.

Bush is an even more important fund-raising draw for Republicans now that campaign finance law has banned big corporate, union and individual “soft money” checks to the national party committees. They must rely on limited individual contributions to finance ads, get-out-the-vote efforts and party operating costs.

Kerry, meanwhile, is focused on his own fund raising, taking in at least $14 million so far this month over the Internet alone. Other Democratic leaders such as former President Clinton and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton have been serving as the party’s fund-raisers-in-chief.

Kerry planned to file his February campaign finance report late Saturday. The reports outlining presidential hopefuls’ contributions and spending are due at the Federal Election Commission at midnight Saturday.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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