Top Tea Partier, Husband, Owed IRS Half A Million Dollars

A top activist with the anti-tax Tea Party movement has had a personal brush with federal tax collectors. Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder and national co-ordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, owed, with her husband, over half a million dollars to the IRS when the pair filed for bankruptcy last year, according to filings examined by TPMmuckraker.

The couple’s bankruptcy filing, made in August 2008 to the US Bankruptcy Court for Georgia’s Northern District, stated that Martin and her husband Lee Martin, of Woodstock, Georgia, owed the IRS $510,000, after making a payment of $16,640 that June. The couple also owed just over $71,000 to Ford Motor Credit, the automaker’s financing arm.In an interview with TPMmuckraker, Jenny Beth Martin said her and her husband’s experience with bankruptcy helped lead them to oppose the Wall Street bailout.

She said that after the bankruptcy, caused by the failure of Lee’s temp firm, “we started cleaning houses and repairing computers to make ends meet.” Meanwhile, massive corporations were getting billions in help from the government. “We were saying, these businesses they were bailing out, there’s already a process in place,” she said. “We’ve gone through it. It sucks and it’s not fun, but its part of how the system works.”

Similarly, she said, Rick Santelli’s famed February rant against help for homeowners hit by the downturn struck a chord. She said that when she and Lee lost their home, they had the chance to apply for loans from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, “but decided it was more important to take personal responsibility.”

But although the Tea Party movement broadly could be described as firmly anti-tax, Martin denied that the bankruptcy had led her to distrust the IRS’s tax-collecting powers. “What I have protested is the way the money is being spent, not to the fact that the government has to tax people,” she said, citing roads and national defense as legitimate government functions that require taxation. She even said she supported existing welfare programs, which “serve a purpose.”

Martin said that Lee’s temp firm, which once employed 5000 people, had failed over two years ago, because of problems with a partner. Lee Martin, she said, was then faced with a choice between paying between paying the blue-collar employees who had earned their wages and were living paycheck-to-paycheck, or paying the IRS. He chose the former. “I know my husband owes that money,” she said. “Had he paid the IRS [it would have] prevented those employees from getting paid.”

Martin, who has worked in the past as a GOP consultant in Georgia, has been a prominent face of the Tea Party movement, making television appearances and speaking to reporters.

She hasn’t hidden her and her husband’s financial woes, portraying them as evidence that she speaks for ordinary Americans affected by the economic downturn. She told USA Today that when she got involved with the Tea Party movement, “we had just lost our house and had … moved into the rental house.” The paper reported that “Lee’s temporary-employee firm had 5,000 workers before it went down in the recession.” Said Jenny Beth: “I didn’t want other people paying for my mortgage, and I wanted to prevent that in other places,” she says.

And in an interview the couple gave to Fox News around the same time, Jenny Beth said: “We’ve been hit by the financial crisis and the recession, and we are like everyday Americans.”

But the bankruptcy and the debt to the IRS was mentioned in neither appearance.

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