Northern Virginia tea party groups were apparently victims of the national IRS scandal, a disgrace that ought to infuriate Americans regardless of ideology.
The groups' experiences illustrate how irresponsible use of government power can unfairly suppress the kind of grassroots advocacy our democracy is supposed to encourage.
The Manassas Tea Party in Prince William County, Va., and Northern Virginia Tea Party in Fairfax, Va. are neighbors. They share the same zeal for citizen activism on behalf of small government.
But even though the two took completely different approaches toward the taxman, both report suffering undue damage at the hands of the agency their members call the Infernal Revenue Service.
The IRS confirmed last month what tea party groups had long been saying: that the agency had targeted groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in their names for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.
It turns out quite a few groups in Virginia were affected.
Some, like the Manassas group, struggled through more than two years of delays and bureaucratic hassle to become tax-exempt.
Others, like the Fairfax group, passed up potential donations after deciding that such status wasn't worth the red tape they saw entangling their ideological brethren.
The Manassas Tea Party sought tax-exempt status in May 2010, partly so it could raise money more easily.
It wanted to be what's called a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, to get a tax exemption for itself and so its donors could remain anonymous. (In that IRS category, the donors themselves can't claim a tax deduction.)
The IRS gave its approval only last January after demanding volumes of paperwork.
"It was without question stifling," Chairman Dan Arnold said. "We stopped fundraising altogether. We kept our activities at a very low scale. People became less involved, because they weren't quite sure what kind of organization we were."
A typical monthly meeting of the Manassas group attracts 30 to 40 people. In the past year, it's focused mostly on opposing municipal tax increases in Manassas.
Across the county line, the Northern Virginia Tea Party decided against applying for tax-exempt status because of others' bad experiences.