President Bush (search) spent a record of nearly $50 million last month, digging deep into his campaign fortune to roll out his first wave of campaign ads and counter John Kerry's (search) surge as he emerged from the Democratic primaries.

Bush raised $26.2 million in March and about $52.9 million for the quarter, setting a presidential campaign record for a three-month period, a campaign finance report filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission (search) shows. Kerry's campaign raised about $50 million for the quarter, a Democratic record.

In all, Bush has taken in at least $185.7 million and spent $99 million since he officially began his re-election effort last May.

Bush's March spending marks the most ever in one month by a presidential campaign.

Nearly all of Bush's ad spending last month — about $40.8 million — went to Maverick Media, an admaking firm run by Bush media adviser Mark McKinnon. The campaign payroll and direct mail were the other two single biggest expenses: Bush spent more than $2 million on mailings and about $1.3 million on staff salaries and related payroll costs.

Kerry surfaced from the primaries nearly broke but quickly rebuilt his finances, raising over $20 million over the Internet alone after becoming his party's nominee-to-be.

Bush has dedicated at least $50 million to ads over March and April. Kerry has spent a fraction of that amount on ads since early March, about $12 million.

But unlike Bush so far, Kerry has benefited from at least $28 million in ad spending by outside groups that oppose Bush, including the Media Fund, MoveOn.org and the AFL-CIO. That has prompted complaints by the Bush campaign accusing some anti-Bush groups of illegally using unlimited donations known as "soft money" in the election; the groups say their activities are legal.

Bush started April with $86.6 million on hand and more fund raising planned — mostly over the Internet and through direct-mail solicitations. He has stopped headlining fund-raisers for himself and is now turning his attention to raising money for other Republicans, although the Bush campaign held fund-raisers featuring others this month.

Bush is free to spend as much as he raises until his party's nominating convention in early September. Both he and Kerry skipped public financing for the primary season, allowing them to surpass the program's $45 million spending limit.

Both are expected to accept full government funding for their general election campaigns. That means each will receive a taxpayer-financed grant of about $75 million when they are nominated by their parties in late summer.

Kerry planned to file his March campaign finance report late Tuesday. He has raised more than $75 million since he began fund raising in January 2003, including roughly $38 million after he locked up the Democratic nomination March 2.

Kerry hopes to reach $105 million by the party's nominating convention in late July. He is in the middle of a national tour to raise millions of dollars for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee.