Mitt Romney called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol. Here's what top Republican presidential hopefuls have had to say on the matter. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

The head of a white supremacist group cited by accused Charleston, S.C., gunman Dylann Roof made thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to prominent Republican candidates in recent years, including three seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

There is no evidence that the campaigns, including those of former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) were aware of the group’s past statements, and some have already said the money will be returned.

They were moving quickly to disassociate themselves from it, with Cruz’s campaign the first to announce that it would return money it had received. That was followed quickly by a similar announcement from Paul and others who had received contributions.

The contributions were first reported by the Guardian.

Earl Holt has described himself as the president of the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization that Dylann Roof mentioned in the “manifesto” posted on a Web site registered under his name. Roof is accused of killing nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church last Wednesday night.

According to the records, Holt gave $8,500 total to Cruz and the super PAC Jobs Growth and Freedom Fund, which supports Cruz, between 2012 and 2014. He gave $1,750 to RandPAC, a group supporting Paul, between 2012 and 2013, and an additional $1,500 to Santorum, Federal Election Commission records show.

[More about ‘Supremacist’ Earl Holt III and his donations to Republicans]

In addition to donations to the three presidential candidates, FEC records show that Longview, Tex., donor “Earl Holt” or “Earl Holt III” contributed to numerous congressional campaigns, including the 2014 campaigns of Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Joni Ernst of Iowa. Holt was also listed as giving to the campaigns of Mia Love and Allen West, two African American House candidates.

During 2012, Holt gave more than $25,000 to GOP candidates, according to the FEC. That total included $2,000 to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, $2,250 to unsuccessful Senate candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana and $3,500 to Todd Akin of Missouri, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Senate.

Most of the two dozen or so donations recorded that year went to candidates who lost. But Holt also provided money to winning GOP candidates — he sent $1,000 to Jeff Flake who won the Senate seat from Arizona that year. And he gave similar amounts to GOP House candidates who won that year, including Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Steve King of Iowa and Louie Gohmert of Texas.

Before noon Monday, other recipients, including Senators Flake and Cotton, announced they would not accept the funds. “We have initiated a refund of Mr. Holt’s contribution,” Cotton said in a prepared statement. “I do not agree with his hateful beliefs and language and believe they are hurtful to our country.” Flake and Paul both said that the funds would be donated to a charity at the Emanuel AME Church, where the shooting had occurred.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking the Council of Conservative Citizens for years. It identifies the CCC as a “white nationalist” group that has “evolved into a crudely white supremacist group” that expanded after the collapse of the White Citizens Councils that sprung up in the South to defend school segregation. The organization received little national attention until 1998.

That year, The Washington Post and other news organization revealed that powerful elected officials, including then-Sen. Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi, had spoken to the group in the recent past. Bob Barr, then a Republican congressman from Georgia, delivered the keynote speech at the CCC’s national convention in June 1998. He later said he had “no idea” what the organization stood for.

The Southern Poverty Law Center at the time referred to the organization as a “hate group” that denigrated blacks as “genetically inferior,” complained about “Jewish power brokers,” called gay people “perverted sodomites,” accused immigrants of turning America into a “slimy brown mass of glop,” and named Lester Maddox, the baseball-bat-wielding, arch-segregationist former governor of Georgia, “Patriot of the Century.”

Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan’s former speechwriter, said at the time that anyone associated with a group like the CCC “doesn’t belong in a leadership position in America.”

Still, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the organization drew 15,000 or so members in recent years including those aligned with pro-Confederate-flag groups. In South Carolina, the organization played a key role in the 1998 defeat of Gov. David Beasley (R), who had tried to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol.

So far, representatives from the Cruz and Santorum campaigns have commented. Rick Tyler, a Cruz campaign spokesman, told the Guardian that both the campaign and super PAC will fully refund Holt’s donations.

Matthew Beynon, a spokesman for Santorum, also spoke to the Guardian: “Senator Santorum does not condone or respect racist or hateful comments of any kind. Period. The views the Senator campaigns on are his own and he is focused on uniting America, not dividing her,” he wrote.

The Council of Conservative Citizens could not be reached for comment. However, the Web site of the organization posted a statement condemning the killings in Charleston. “But they do not detract in the slightest from the legitimacy of some of the positions he [Roof] has expressed,” it said.

The Web site also includes a posting from Holt saying it “is not surprising” that Dylann Roof credited the organization’s website for his knowledge of black-on-white violent crime.

“The CofCC is one of perhaps three websites in the world that accurately and honestly report black-on-white violent crime, and in particular, the seemingly endless incidents involving black-on-white murder.

“The CofCC website exists because media either ‘spike’ such stories, or intentionally obscure the race of black offenders. Indeed, at its national convention some years ago, the Society of Professional Journalists adopted this tactic as a formal policy.

“The CofCC is hardly responsible for the actions of this deranged individual merely because he gleaned accurate information from our website,” the note attributed to Holt said.

Throughout Holt’s various donation filings, he identifies his employment as “self-employed” and occasionally as “slumlord.”