Senator Ted Cruz is the first Republican candidate to announce his presidential candidacy for 2016.

Senator Ted Cruz is the first Republican candidate to announce his presidential candidacy for 2016.

Washington, United States (AFP)   – Three Republican presidential candidates say they are donating contributions they received from the leader of a white supremacist group mentioned by the accused Charleston church gunman to relatives of those slain.

White House hopeful Senator Ted Cruz initially planned to return the donations he had received since 2012 from Earl Holt III, president of the Council of Conservative Citizens, his spokesman Rick Tyler said Monday.

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

But instead, Cruz will now donate $11,000 to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund to assist families of the nine people who were shot dead Wednesday at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

Holt has given dozens of times to numerous candidates in recent years, including members of the US Senate and House of Representatives, totaling at least $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 $1,750, and former senator Rick Santorum received $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 in a statement.

“I abhor the sentiments Mr Holt has expressed. These statements and sentiments are unacceptable,” Santorum added.

“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 same fund.

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.”