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May 16, 2013 at 7:00 AM

Washington tea party group says it was among those targeted by IRS

An Eastern Washington tea party group says it was among those targeted by the Internal Revenue Service for extra scrutiny when it applied for nonprofit status.

Organizers with the Tri-Cities Tea Party said they received two rounds of detailed questionnaires from the IRS after seeking 501(c)(4) status in 2010.

Radphord-Leon Howard, one of the group’s leaders, said the first round of questions appeared largely reasonable — queries about its officers and mission, for example.

After supplying answers to those questions, the group waited for a year or so, but the IRS didn’t reply to letters asking about the status of its application, said Howard, who lives in West Richland.

Then, about a year ago, the group received a detailed second set of inquiries from the IRS, some of which seemed overly intrusive for a small organization, especially demands for addresses and affiliations of the group’s donors, Howard said.

“These are $10 and $20 donors. That’s when we figured they are trying to figure out a way to deny us the status,” Howard said. “We felt we were targeted.”

The Tri-Cities group responded to some of the additional questions, Howard said. But organizers considered others too invasive and considered joining a national lawsuit being planned by conservative legal advocates.

Howard said after going back and forth with the IRS with no resolution, they ultimately decided to just drop the nonprofit application, figuring they weren’t raising enough money to bother with it (or trigger any federal rules).

“We’ll still be what we are,” Howard said. He said although IRS seemed to believe the group was going violate nonprofit status by straying into political campaigning for a particular party or candidate, “our purpose is to educate – we don’t like either one of the parties, Democrat or Republican.”

The uproar over the IRS’ singling out of groups with words like “tea party” or “patriot” in their names erupted this week with the release of a Treasury Department inspector general’s report.

That report did not name which groups were subjected to the inappropriate targeting, and a Treasury Department spokeswoman did not respond Wednesday to requests for additional information. But the lengthy questionnaires described by Howard are similar to those that other conservative groups say they received from the IRS after applying for nonprofit status.

The IRS actions, which President Obama has called “inexcusable,” led to the ouster Wednesday of the acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller, and announcements of a criminal probe and investigations by Congress.

Keli Carender, the well-known Seattle tea party activist, said the national conservative group she now organizes for – Tea Party Patriots – also believes it was targeted by the IRS for invasive questioning based on its political leanings.

She said the IRS treatment of the national and Tri-Cities group is an example of why the tea party started in the first place: “a government that is so big that people are not held accountable.”

Comments | More in homepage, Politics Northwest | Topics: IRS, nonprofits, tea party

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