Opposition to the transfer of public lands movement has grown increasingly vocal throughout the West over the past year. But last week marked the first direct challenge to the movement's most prominent leader, Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory. The fledgling Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Campaign for Accountability sent letters to the attorneys general of Utah, Arizona and Montana June 1 requesting they investigate Ivory over allegations of "engaging in a scheme to defraud ... local government officials out of taxpayer funds." In leveling its accusations, the campaign cited Ivory's efforts in those three states to secure paid membership from county governments in the American Lands Council, of which he serves as president.
"He and his wife are pocketing a significant percentage of the money that comes in to the American Lands Council," says Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Anne Weismann. "Some of these municipalities are foregoing jails, whatever, to scrape together the money to give to him. To me it screams out fraud. We'll see if the attorneys general agree, but he certainly is making money and lining his own pockets."
According to tax filings, the ALC paid Ivory $40,000 in 2012 and $95,000 in 2013. His wife, Rebecca Ivory, also made $19,715 working as director of communications for the organization in 2013.
However, Montana remains something of an outlier in the trio of states to receive complaints. Utah boasts 21 ALC-member counties, two of which are listed as "platinum" members on the council's website—a level that indicates donations of $25,000. Four counties in Arizona have also paid into ALC. Yet despite Ivory's past appearances before a number of local officials, no Montana counties have joined the ALC as paying members.
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- The nonprofit Campaign for Accountability filed complaints against Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory in three states last week, claiming Ivory’s efforts to enlist county support for the transfer of public lands is “tantamount to selling unwitting victims the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Weismann, who worked at the U.S. Department of Justice and the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington prior to founding the Campaign for Accountability this spring, doesn't feel the lack of Montana taxpayer money going to the ALC—and, subsequently, into Ivory's pocket—makes her case for an investigation by Attorney General Tim Fox any less strong. Her complaint characterizes Ivory's late 2013 tour through Ravalli, Sanders, Flathead, Mineral and Lincoln counties as one "paid for with tax- payer funds from dozens of counties in other Western states." The complaint also claims Ivory "appears to have committed the offense of solicitation by encouraging others, including Montana State Senator Jennifer Fielder, to solicit funds from Montana officials to fuel the activities of ALC."
"It certainly is the case that [Montana counties] haven't joined up, but he has tried," Weismann says. "And in our view, that's the crime."
John Barnes, communications director for Fox's office, cannot speak to the specifics of the complaint but does confirm it is "already under review and receiving attention." The first step is to determine what authority the attorney general may have in the matter, Barnes says. He can't offer a timeline for when an investigation might begin and is unsure if Fox's office has been in touch with the attorneys general of Arizona and Utah about the issue.
In a subsequent press release, Ivory dismissed the letters as "desperate bullying" and claimed groups like the Campaign for Accountability are "so afraid of the success that the transfer of public lands movement is having that they're stooping to these kinds of bullying tactics." He elaborated on the issue during an online video chat with Colorado Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro and Salt Lake City Tribune reporter Brian Maffly, attributing his ALC salary to his role educating others on the promise of the nonprofit's mission. Despite Ivory's defense of the legality and constitutionality of a lands transfer, Weismann and other critics continue to point to a growing body of literature from legal scholars disputing the ALC's assertions.
"I'm a lawyer, so I look at the legal arguments he's making and they seem so facially ridiculous," Weismann says. "I'm not trying to demean his arguments, except that to me, the constitution is clear and the whole argument about the Enabling Act, it's been discredited for a long time. Long before he came along with this theory."