As the Internal Revenue Service is castigated for targeting conservative political groups, a co-founder of the York 912 Patriots said the group has never been scrutinized by the IRS.

The York branch of the tea party has never even been approached by agents, said Lee Ann Burkholder, who is also spokeswoman for the group.

Nonetheless, Burkholder said she feels "vindicated" by the news that the IRS has apologized for focusing on conservative groups to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.

While the York group was never accused of wrongdoing by IRS agents, numerous other Patriot groups with which York members communicated said they were subjected to extra scrutiny and harassed by agents, she said.

"We knew back in 2010 that (tea partiers) were being targeted," she said. "We were told we were being conspiracy theorists, and now the truth comes out."

The IRS has blamed lower-level agents and said higher-level management didn't direct the emphasis on conservatives, but Burkholder theorizes the directive came from the highest level.

"My personal opinion is that this was an order from the (Obama) administration because they were groups opposing the agenda, speaking out in opposition to what's happening in this country."

Treasury report: Ineffective management at the IRS allowed agents to improperly target tea party groups for more than 18 months, said a report released Tuesday by the Treasury inspector general for tax administration. The report lays much of the blame on IRS supervisors in Washington who oversaw a group of specialists in Cincinnati who screened applications for tax exempt status.


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It does not indicate that Washington initiated the targeting of conservative groups.

But it does say one top supervisor in Washington did not adequately supervise agents in the field even after she learned the agents were acting improperly.

"The report's findings are intolerable and inexcusable," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "The federal government must conduct itself in a way that's worthy of the public's trust, and that's especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test."

Status: The York 912 Patriots filed for a 501(c)4 status in 2009, a move Burkholder said was intended to protect the founders and leaders. When the group was formed, members received hateful emails and letters, some of which made reference to their children, Burkholder said.

With so much hostility pointed toward them, leaders decided to form a nonprofit to limit liability in case, for example, someone "slipped and fell" at a meeting and sued them, she said.

While opposition from Democrats might have been expected, Burkholder said most of the York 912 Patriots' opposition has come from the right.

"We expect a lot of these things from the Democrats ... but since many of us identify as Republicans, we expected more from the Republicans," she said. "We've had Republicans within York coming after us ... because we're also going after Republicans and wanting them to be held accountable. They're equally responsible for what's happening in this country."

Under the special tax-exempt status, the group is allowed to participate in political activities, but politics can't be the organization's main focus. The main focus must be social welfare.

While the group hosts candidate forums and devotes much of its time to politics and current events, Burkholder said the overarching theme is education.

"We're an education group," she said. "That's how we promote social welfare. We educate the community on what is going on."

Donations to the group are not tax deductible. While she couldn't provide an exact membership count, Burkholder said the York 912 Patriots has "several hundred" members.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Christina Kauff man at ckauffman@yorkdispatch.com.