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Tea Party Patriots Investigated: The Tax-Dodging Treasurer

Why'd the group put a failed businessman who owes big money to the IRS in charge of its finances?

| Wed Feb. 16, 2011 6:00 AM EST

The finances of the nation's largest tea party group have increasingly become a subject of concern—and outrage—to conservative activists. Some question whether donations to the organization, Tea Party Patriots, have gone to advance the movement, or just the careers and jet-setting lifestyles of its leaders. What they don't know is that the group has had a man with an unusual background managing its money: He was sanctioned by the IRS several years ago for failing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll taxes related to a failed business that pushed him into bankruptcy. He also happens to be married to one of the group's leaders.

For a group that has demanded financial accountability and transparency from the Obama administration, Tea Party Patriots (TPP) has not embraced those principles in its own business affairs. It has been highly secretive about its finances, and the organization's leaders have dealt harshly with activists and employees who've pressed for answers on how donor money has been spent.

Meanwhile, the group has failed to file a timely tax return indicating how much money it has raised and what, generally, it spent it on—including how much it's paying its top staffers. And despite identifying itself for nearly two years as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, the group has neglected to actually apply to the IRS for such status.

Former TPP insiders say the organization's finances have largely been managed by Lee Martin, who's identified in some corporate filings as the group's assistant treasurer. He's better known to tea partiers as the husband of Jenny Beth Martin, a cofounder of TPP and one of the faces of the tea party movement.

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Unknown to all but a few tea partiers who have knowledge of TPP's internal dynamics, Martin has taken a wide-ranging role in the organization, managing a range of payroll and personnel issues. Former employees describe him as a financial gatekeeper of sorts. "I couldn't get paid without contacting Lee Martin," says Scott Boston, who worked for several months as the group's national education coordinator before he was let go last fall.

Ex-TPP insiders familiar with Martin's role at TPP say having him handle the group's bills poses a conflict of interest. They also question the wisdom of placing a person with a dubious financial track record in charge of managing the group's donated money—which, since the group's founding in 2009, has totaled in the millions. Much of it arrives via small online contributions that can create a bookkeeping nightmare.

"I couldn't get paid without contacting Lee Martin."

While Lee Martin does have experience running a business, things did not end well for his company. For about eight years, Martin owned a Georgia temp company called Indwell, which supplied non-English speaking temporary workers to local businesses. The company went belly up in 2007, and Martin has blamed a former business partner for contributing to its demise. But while running the company on his own, Martin failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll taxes.

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