Leaders of tea party and other conservative groups have been telling a House panel today about what they say has been years of abuse by the Internal Revenue Service.

Clockwise from the left, Kevin Kookogey, founder and president of Linchpins of Liberty; Diane Besom of the Laurens County Tea Party; John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage; Sue Martinek of the Coalition for Life of Iowa; and Becky Gerritson of the Wetumpka Tea Party; testify during a hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

They say that when they applied for tax-exempt status, the IRS responded by asking them inappropriate questions. The leader of an anti-abortion group says the agency asked about the content of their prayers. The head of a group that opposes same-sex marriage says the IRS publicly disclosed confidential information about its donors -- which he saw as an attempt to keep them from donating again.

Democrats on the panel joined Republicans in criticizing IRS behavior, and voicing sympathy for how the groups were treated. But some Democrats also noted that the IRS is responsible for seeing if organizations qualify for tax-exempt status, and that it can't approve requests from groups that primarily engage in election campaigns. And Democrat Jim McDermott of Washington state told them, "None of you were kept from organizing." He says, "We're talking about whether or not American taxpayers will subsidize your work."

Today's testimony marked the first time the groups complaining about IRS treatment since the agency revealed the targeting of conservative groups -- and apologized for it -- last month.

Some said their applications for tax-exempt status took three years to be approved -- and some said they are still waiting.

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