The Republican National Committee (search) raised at least $38.5 million Wednesday at an annual gala featuring President Bush, beating a party record set when big corporate and union donations were still allowed.

About 1,500 people were expected to attend the evening event at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington. Bush was to deliver the keynote address at the dinner.

The money total tops the roughly $30 million that 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.

The record-setting night comes as Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney (search), 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 Wednesday night's gala.

The GOP 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.

Presidential candidate John Kerry (search), the party's presumptive nominee, has been helping the Democratic National Committee (search) raise millions of dollars at party fund-raisers he has headlined in conjunction with his own money events.

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.

Until Bush took office, 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.

Both parties are also pressing to expand their ranks of small-dollar donors, another source of millions annually.