Three Republican candidates for president, Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and former Sen. Rick Santorum said this morning they would return or donate thousands of dollars possibly linked to the head of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a white supremacist group. The group was cited in a purported manifesto believed linked to the suspect in last week’s massacre at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The head of that group, Earl Holt, appears to have made contributions to several Republican candidates for president over the past several years or their political action committees, including Cruz, of Texas, Paul, of Kentucky, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, as well as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and other prominent Republicans.
An aide to Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, told ABC News exclusively that Romney for President, Inc. will donate $2,000 to the Lowcountry Ministries -- Reverend Pinckney Fund, a fund created in memory of the pastor killed in the church attack.
Federal campaign filings show that a person named Earl Holt donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republican campaign funds between 2010 and 2014. Earl Holt III is listed as president of the Council of Conservative Citizens on its website; the Southern Poverty Law Center calls it a hate group.
A spokeswoman for Cruz said he was returning Holt’s donations, which, according to Federal Election Commission filings, totaled $8,500 from 2012 to 2014 to Cruz, his campaigns or PACs.
“Upon learning about Mr. Holt's background and his contributions to the campaign, he immediately instructed that all of those donations be returned,” Catherine Frazier, Cruz’s press secretary, said in a statement.
Paul will donate money from Holt to the Mother Emanuel Hope fund, which helps cover funeral and burial expenses for victims of the Charleston church massacre, said Paul’s adviser, Doug Stafford. Holt gave $2,250 to Paul’s political action committee, RandPAC, from 2012 to 2014, according to FEC filings.
Santorum will also donate the funds he received from Holt in the 2012 campaign, with his donation going to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund.
"Rather than put more money back in the pockets of such an individual, my 2012 campaign committee will be donating the amount of his past donations to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund to support the victims of this tragedy," Santorum said. “I abhor the sentiments Mr. Holt has expressed. These statements and sentiments are unacceptable. Period. End of sentence. Our campaign is about, and has always been about, uniting America, not dividing her.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, received $250 from Holt in 2010, and his spokeswoman, Caitlin Conant, said this morning that after Portman learned of the donations from reports last night, he planned to donate the amount he received from Holt to charity.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., announced this morning, "We have initiated a refund of Mr. Holt’s contribution. I do not agree with his hateful beliefs and language and believe they are hurtful to our country." Sen. Jeff Flake will also donate the $1,000 he received from Holt to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund.
In a purported manifesto posted online and believed to be tied to Dylann Roof, the suspected gunman in the attack on a Charleston church Wednesday that left nine dead, the author refers to visiting the Council of Conservative Citizens’ website.
The Council of Conservative Citizens said in a statement on its website that it “condemns” and was “deeply saddened” by the Charleston killings, but Holt said in a separate message that he was not surprised Roof may have been inspired by his group’s postings.
The group “is hardly responsible for the actions of this deranged individual merely because he gleaned accurate information from our website,” Holt said.
The long list of recipients of Holt’s money encompasses several other current and former Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas and Steve King of Iowa, and former Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri.
The Guardian first reported on the donations Sunday evening.
Nearly all of the FEC filings for the donations, made between 2010 and 2014, provide an address in Longview, Texas, for Holt, who is at times referred to as Edward P. Holt III. His occupation is listed as variations of “self-employed,” “real estate,” “property manager,” “retired,” “writer” or, several times, “slumlord.”
A number listed for Earl Holt III at the address from the FEC filings this morning went to a voicemail box that wasn’t accepting messages. An email sent to an address listed on the group’s website this morning was not returned.
Jared Taylor, a former board member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, is listed on the group’s site as a contact for inquiries about the Charleston shooting, but he told ABC News this morning that he hadn’t been in touch with Holt about his donations.
“I can’t confirm or deny that, I’m sorry to say,” Taylor said, referring to whether Holt made the donations. He also would not confirm whether Holt lived in Longview.
Spokespeople for Santorum and several other Republicans who received money from Holt did not respond to requests for comment overnight.
ABC News' John Parkinson and Chad Murray contributed to this report.