Republican 2016 US presidential hopefuls reject white supremacist donations

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Three Republican presidential candidates say they are donating to charity the contributions they received from the leader of a white supremacist group mentioned by the alleged perpetrator of last week's massacre at a historic black church in Charleston.

White House hopeful Senator Ted Cruz will return the US$8,500 (S$11,283) in donations he has received since 2012 from Earl Holt III, president of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a Cruz aide told The Guardian on Sunday.

The group is listed as racist and extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, which tracks US hate groups.

Holt has given dozens of times to numerous candidates in recent years, including members of the US Senate and House of Representatives, totalling at least US$56,000, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Aside from Cruz, two other presidential candidates have received donations from Holt: Senator Rand Paul got US$1,750, and former senator Rick Santorum received US$1,500, apparently during his previous presidential campaign.

"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 Monday in a statement. "I abhor the sentiments Mr. Holt has expressed.

"These statements and sentiments are unacceptable," he said. "Our campaign is about, and has always been about, uniting America, not dividing her."

Paul's chief strategist, Doug Stafford, said the RandPAC political action committee will donate the contributions to the fund to assist families of the nine people who were shot dead Wednesday at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

The alleged Charleston killer, Dylann Roof, is believed to have created a website where he wrote about black-on-white violence, citing figures that he found on the website of Holt's organization.

Holt, in a statement on his site, said his group was "hardly responsible for the actions of this deranged individual merely because he gleaned accurate information from our website".