White Supremacist Campaign Donations: How Did Republicans Not Know?

Why didn’t Ted Cruz (or Rand Paul or Rick Santorum) know that campaign donor Earl Holt III is the president of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist organization?

That is one of many questions, following the revelation that all three Republican candidates for president – and many other GOP politicians, dating back at least to 2004 – accepted donations from Mr. Holt. The British newspaper the Guardian broke the story Sunday.

Holt’s racist writings came to light following last week’s massacre at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, was apparently influenced by Holt. A website registered to Mr. Roof contained a manifesto crediting the Council of Conservative Citizens for the author’s knowledge of “brutal black-on-white murders.”

Which goes back to the donations – and how the Republican Party, already struggling to attract minority voters, can overcome this public-relations blow.

For now, though, campaigns may have to step up their game in going through donor lists and checking for potentially problematic names. The use of guilt-by-association can be a powerful campaign tool, and candidates usually want to expunge controversial people from their midst as quickly as possible. 

“They’re going to have to at least look through their donations, particularly those running for president, to make sure there aren’t more items like this,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “This is a very time intensive process. It’s not, ‘Let me hit "find" on a Word document.’ ”

But even when and if all the Holt money is disposed of – including donations to Bush-Cheney ’04 and 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney – the Republicans’ challenge on racial matters is far from over.

“It’s a big challenge, because the media narrative is that this is the party of old white men, and it’s something they’re trying to get rid of. With that come connotations of racism and sexism,” says Mr. O’Connell. “Even when it’s not true, it still sticks to them.”

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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Analysis & Political Strategy