The DNC has $35 million in cash today, compared with the spring of 2000, when it was millions of dollars in debt.
Soft money is still finding a niche in the election through donations to the independent groups, known as 527s after a section of the Internal Revenue Service tax code. Most of those groups are spending unlimited dollars on anti-Bush political advertising and get-out-the-vote programs.
"We are seeing people coming out of the woodwork," said Ellen Malcolm, president of America Coming Together, one of the 527s.
Donors to both parties feel the outcome of this year's election is critical -- from the retired Honduran army colonel who has given money to Bush even though he is not a U.S. citizen, to the Hollywood producer who counted more than 200 new faces at a fundraiser she helped put on recently for Kerry.
"Bush is a great motivator. I can't stand the guy. He's ruining our country and everything it stands for," said Roy Cloud, 45, a wine importer in Washington, D.C. He made his first political contributions this year -- $250 to Kerry and a smaller amount to the MoveOn.org Voter Fund, an independent anti-Bush group.
Castlen Moore, 25, who commutes between her house in Houston and her job at a Washington, D.C. engineering firm, had equally passionate things to say about why she recently contributed $250 to Bush's campaign. It was her first political contribution.
"Once you donate money to a campaign, you feel connected to it," Moore said. She's decided that Americans will be much safer with Bush in office and is encouraging her friends to contribute money to him, even if they can afford only a $15 donation.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean shocked the political world early in the campaign when he raised $30 million in donations in chunks of less than $200 before dropping out of the race for the Democratic nomination.
But like most fundraising records this year, that record has already been shattered. Bush had raised $37 million in donations of less than $200 as of the end of March; Kerry had raised $21.5 million in small donations, according to an analysis by the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit affiliated with George Washington University.
The bulk of money flowing to both campaigns still comes from large donors such as Ravi Narayan, 45, an accountant in Virginia, who donated the maximum $2,000 to Bush.
Narayan said he gave money "to make a stand." He supports Bush's positions on family values and taxes. "Everyone thinks the rich people are supporting Bush," he said. "I'm a new immigrant," from India.
Hector Rene Fonseca, a retired Honduran army colonel, donated $2,000 to Bush and raised about $50,000 more on behalf of the president, even though he can't vote in the election. (As a permanent legal resident, he can give money).
Bush's position on gay marriage motivated Fonseca to contribute.
"That's what's key for me. Being of Latino descent, I do respect the institution of marriage between a man and a woman," he said.
Allyn Stewart, a Los Angeles film producer and longtime Democratic fundraiser, has hosted two such events for Kerry. Both attracted political novices, including women who had never raised money for a political cause, she said, "moms, entertainment executives, lawyers, architects, truly all over the map."
She's surprised by the number of people wanting to donate the maximum to Kerry: "There are a lot of people saying, 'I want to go to the full $2,000.' I've never experienced that before."
Louis Susman, Kerry's national finance chairman, said he has never seen such interest in a presidential campaign: "Every single event I've had, I've been closed down by fire marshals or there's not been enough room."
On Monday night in Minneapolis, thousands of donors packed a cavernous hall and contributed $1 million to Kerry -- double the goal set by the campaign.
The political parties are also benefiting from new money. The RNC said it had a million new donors since Bush took office. And the DNC said it has counted a million new donors since 2001 -- including 800,000 who were identified through direct-mail solicitation.
In Pittsburgh, engineer Lynda Bilec, "a young 63," gave her first contribution ever to the RNC this year, "because I like President Bush and I don't like the Democrats anymore."
She said she donated $50 to the RNC and $50 to the Bush campaign. The campaign thanked her with a note and a picture of the president.
In Atlanta, retired real estate executive Jack Cross, 73, a long-time Republican, said he became so distressed about the Bush administration's fiscal and foreign policies in January that he donated $25,000 to the DNC, the maximum allowed by an individual.
Giving "money is the only thing I could do," he said. "My wife was shocked. She said, 'You're what?' "