Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) apparently broke his pledge to give away contributions from a white supremacist leader who inspired a shooting at a black church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. Another Texas lawmaker, Sen. Ted Cruz (R), donated to the victims but fell short of his pledge.
Gohmert and Cruz were among 23 Republican politicians who reportedly pledged to give away money they received from white supremacist leader Earl Holt, whose group helped to inspire the Charleston shooting. A review by ThinkProgress found that only Gohmert and Cruz apparently did not completely follow through on their promises to donate at least the amount they received to charitable causes.
Holt is president of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a hate group. After the attack on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the shooter, Dylann Roof, credited Holt’s website with helping to develop his racist views.
“The first website I came to was the Council of Conservative Citizens,” Roof wrote. “There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White[sic] murders. I was in disbelief. At this moment I realized that something was very wrong.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert
The Sunday after the shooting, Gohmert preached at his home church in Tyler, Texas. Toward the end of his sermon, before getting on his knees to lead a prayer, the congressman said the attack on fellow Christians was a sign that it is “a dangerous time” for the country.
“We need to pray for the families of those that were lost,” Gohmert told the thousands of worshipers packed into Green Acres Baptist Church. “The Christians that are gone, they’re in paradise. But God needs to help those of us that are left, and it’ll only happen if we pray to Him.”
Gohmert later said in a press statement that he would double the $1,250 in contributions Holt made to his campaign committee and leadership PAC — donating $2,500 to the victims.
“The $750 contribution to my campaign fund and the $500 given to my PAC from a man that the Charleston shooter apparently says inspired him is being given to the Charleston church of our deceased brothers and sisters,” the statement read. “In fact, I am doubling those two amounts and donating those to our sister church where the victims were members so that they may best apply the money to what is needed right there where they gave their lives in prayer.”
There is no public record the congressman ever made that donation.
Filings from Gohmert’s campaign committee and leadership PAC do not show any donations to Emanuel Church — or to any other South Carolina church or charity.
Emanuel Church could not confirm whether Gohmert donated. But the Rev. Eric Manning, the church’s pastor, said neither Gohmert nor his PAC appear on a list of donations the church received for victims’ families from June to October 2015. He said the church has not finished compiling the names of people who donated from October 2015 to January 2016, when the donations dropped off.
“So at this particular point, we could realistically neither confirm nor deny that we have [the donation], just because we’re still processing through the sheer volume of all the correspondence we have,” Manning told ThinkProgress.
Spokespeople for the two main victims’ funds, the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund and the Lowcountry Ministries Fund, told ThinkProgress they have no record of a donation from Gohmert. No donations to those funds appear in filings from Gohmert’s campaign committee or leadership PAC.
Gohmert’s office did not return multiple phone calls, emails, and text messages left over several days requesting comment.
Sen. Ted Cruz
Fellow Texas Republican Ted Cruz also felt short of his pledge to Charleston victims, donating just $8,700 of the $11,000 he promised. Cruz returned the remaining $2,300 to Holt.
In June 2015, The Guardian reported that Cruz’s senate and presidential campaigns and his leadership PAC received a total $8,500 from Holt between 2012 and 2015. The senator’s office initially told The Guardian it would return the $8,500 donation. However, a spokesperson later said Cruz would make an $11,000 donation to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund.
“[A]fter reflection, he decided that the best use of that money would not be to return it but instead use it to help support the families of victims from the Charleston shooting,” the unnamed spokesperson told The Guardian.
An internal Cruz campaign memo from June 23, 2015, obtained by ThinkProgress, appears to show why Cruz upped his pledge from $8,500. A donation history in the memo shows that the Cruz campaign found $11,000 in PAC and campaign contributions from Holt between 2012 and 2015 — $2,500 more than what The Guardian found.
In the memo, dated one day after The Guardian’s story, Cruz’s campaign said it would donate $8,700 to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund and return $2,300 that Holt donated to Cruz for President because losing primary candidates are required to return general election donations.
That’s exactly what Cruz did, according to public campaign filings. They show $8,700 in donations from Cruz’s two campaigns and his leadership PAC to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, which a spokesperson for the fund confirmed. Filings also show that Cruz for President returned $2,300 that Holt donated for the general election.
Cruz spokesperson Catherine Frazier defended the move.
“[T]he $2,300 you are asking about had to be refunded because it was an amount made out to the general election,” Frazier said in an email. “We returned all general election money as required. The remainder all went to Mother Emanuel.”
Cruz for President had $74,067.50 cash on hand at the end of last year, according to a campaign filing. That same filing shows that the campaign transferred $100,000 in excess funds to Ted Cruz for Senate on December 31, 2017.
Asked why Cruz didn’t return $2,300 to Holt while still honoring its full $11,000 pledge to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund, Frazier said the campaign kept its promise.
“[W]e followed through on our word to donate the money given the campaign to Mother Emanuel,” Frazier said.