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Originally published Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 8:20 PM

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Tri-Cities tea-party group says it was IRS target

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.

Seattle Times political reporter

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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, 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 that after going back and forth with the IRS with no resolution, members of the group 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 the IRS seemed to believe the group was going to violate nonprofit status by straying into 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 spokesman did not respond Thursday 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, a well-known Seattle tea-party activist, said the national conservative group she now organizes for — Tea Party Patriots — also believes it was targeted 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.”

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner

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