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They may not be the eye-popping amounts of previous years, but the House GOP leadership and Democrats in both chambers have already scheduled major fundraisers beginning next month, all designed to rake in millions of dollars in a world without soft money.

The National Republican Congressional Committee hopes to get $4 million during a fundraising gala on March 18 at the Washington Hilton.

With the federal ban on soft-money donations now in place thanks to last year’s McCain-Feingold campaign funding law, the NRCC event is expected to garner millions less than a similar dinner in March 2001, thus ending a long string of fundraising records set each year by both parties. The 2001 dinner netted $7 million for the NRCC, although that total included a mix of hard and soft money.

GOP officials privately say that if they reach the $4 million goal they have set, it will represent an increase in hard-money contributions from 2001.

Republicans also insist that they retain a significant financial edge over their Democratic rivals, despite the diminished expectations both parties face on the fundraising front due to McCain-Feingold.

The NRCC, which is now chaired by Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), disclosed last week that it raised $183 million during the previous cycle, $112 million of which came in the form of hard money. That easily shattered the record set by the NRCC during the 2000 cycle and was significantly more than the $95 million raised by Democrats. The NRCC also reported that it had a $5.7 million in debt, twice the amount it had at a similar point two years ago.

“There is no question that the [NRCC] will have less money to spend in 2004 because of McCain-Feingold than it did in the the 2002 cycle,” said Steve Schmidt, the NRCC’s communications director. “However, the NRCC will still have a formidable ability to affect the small number of contested races. Republicans will also have an enormous advantage over Democrats because of our proven ability to raise hard money.”

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a senior member of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, will spearhead the NRCC’s fundraising effort for the event. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani headlined the 2001 dinner, although there is no word yet on who will star at this gala.

Dozens of GOP lawmakers have already scheduled small fundraisers in town during February and March.

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has a fundraiser planned for March 4 at Galileo restaurant, while Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has events on March 4 and March 12. Meanwhile, House and Senate Democrats are gearing up their own fundraising machines.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is planning a big dinner for March 4. While no fundraising target has been set for that gathering yet — the location is still up in the air — tickets will cost donors $5,000 each. Many of the high-dollar donor programs on both sides of the aisle were paid for in soft money prior to the Nov. 6 ban.

The DSCC will also hold its “Majority Trust Winter Dinner” at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) Washington home on March 11. The DSCC is asking for a $25,000 contribution for donors to qualify for its Majority Trust. Individual donors can give $37,500 in hard money annually under the new campaign finance rules, with a cap set at $25,000 for donations to any single committee. As of right now, former President Bill Clinton is not on the schedule to attend the March dinner.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee held its first major fundraiser for the 2004 cycle in Vail, Colo., during the first week of January.

Brian Wolff, finance director at the DCCC, said 15 Members attended the Vail ski trip, but he could not offer an estimate of the total take for the committee.

The DCCC has its first big Washington event scheduled for March 25. Wolff said the committee has created an additional dinner in the fall to gather more funds.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has no major events scheduled at the current time, said Senate GOP officials, although the committee does have several smaller gatherings planned for top donors.

The NRSC is planning a meeting of its “Inner Circle” for Feb. 20 in Las Vegas. It costs $15,000 to qualify for that group.

The NRSC and NRCC are planning a major fundraiser with President Bush on May 21. The President’s Dinner will be held at the new Washington Convention Center. No fundraising target has been set for the event yet.

Chris Cillizza contributed to this report.

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