They ran for office, publicly denouncing prejudice and discrimination, but records reviewed by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit revealed that some of the most politically progressive policymakers helped fund their campaigns with money tied to extremist groups.
The Investigative Unit cross referenced the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) list of California organizations they classify as hate groups, with hundreds of campaign disclosure forms dating back to 2002. Records show state and federal officials accepted more than $250,000 in donations from board members of groups on SPLC’s California “hate map.” Among the most recognizable recipients: former President Barack Obama ($2,300), California Gov. Jerry Brown ($5,000), and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris ($1,000).
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SPLC Hate Map
The Alabama-based SPLC tracks more than 900 hate groups throughout the country, including 79 in California. Their list is used by colleges, law enforcement, and lawmakers to help identify discrimination and extremist beliefs.
The American Freedom Party is one of seven white nationalist groups currently active in California, according to SPLC. Party chair William Johnson is one of the most prolific donors with ties to SPLC’s hate map. Election records show that the Southern California attorney contributed more than $30,000 to candidates, hoping to reshape America.
“I personally would like to have a white ethno state, a place where we can have our own country, our own language, our own heritage,” Johnson told NBC Bay Area. “I want a country where I go to these little schools and there's just a sea of towheaded kids with blond hair and blue [eyes].”
You Get What You Pay For?
Recipients of Johnson’s generosity include candidates ranging from President Donald Trump to state Treasurer John Chiang.
“His values are not what I want for California,” Chiang told NBC Bay Area. The current treasurer and gubernatorial candidate said he had no idea that Johnson contributed $250 to his campaign in 2014 but added that his office tries to vet contributions over $1,000.
“We returned his contribution from the previous election, and he did try to make an additional contribution, and we are not accepting,” Chiang said.
A spokesperson for Sen. Harris told NBC Bay Area that she was also unaware of the connection between one of her donors and SPLC’s hate map. Harris along with Brown and Obama received thousands from a board member at Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS). SPLC added CAPS to its hate map earlier this year, calling out the group’s ties to neo-Nazism, eugenics, and white nationalism dating back to its inception in 1986.
Earlier this week, Harris donated the $1,000 contribution she received to the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
Representatives for Brown and Obama did not respond to NBC Bay Area’s requests for comment.
Seth Brysk with the Anit-Defamation League in San Francisco tracks fringe groups in the Bay Area. He believes extremist groups are giving political donations in an attempt to gain mainstream acceptance.
“Those groups are today seeking greater respectability,” Brysk said. “That's an effort for them to tie themselves to a legitimate candidate or political party and further gain legitimacy for their extremist views.”
What is a Hate Group?
NBC Bay Area contacted all of the groups that we found whose board members made political contributions. Representatives for every group denied discriminating based on race, gender, or sexuality and accused SPLC of using unfair tactics to raise money. CAPS denied the organization is anti-immigrant or linked to eugenics, calling SPLC’s claims “baseless.”
“Every religious group, about every middle of the road group, is called a hate group by them,” Johnson said.
The American Freedom Party chair said he won’t lose sleep over his returned donation and still plans to support Asian candidate Chiang for governor.
“You look for good qualities in all people,” Johnson told NBC Bay Area.
List of Contributions from Board Members