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Watchdog group accuses Utah lawmaker of fraud in soliciting funds for lands fight

Representative Ken Ivory speaks Monday, March 2, 2015, at the Utah State Capitol. A watchdog group wants the Utah attorney general to investigate whether a Ivory is fraudulently soliciting funds in his effort to force the federal government to transfer pu
Representative Ken Ivory speaks Monday, March 2, 2015, at the Utah State Capitol. A watchdog group wants the Utah attorney general to investigate whether a Ivory is fraudulently soliciting funds in his effort to force the federal government to transfer public lands to the state.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A watchdog group wants the Utah attorney general to investigate whether a state lawmaker is fraudulently soliciting funds in his effort to force the federal government to transfer public lands to the state.

The Campaign for Accountability, based in Washington, D.C., filed complaints Monday against Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, in Utah, Montana and Arizona. It claims Ivory is making false promises to induce local governments in Western states to become paying members of the American Lands Council.

Ivory works as president of the non-profit group, which is made up of counties, businesses and people who advocate for local control of public lands.

"Ken Ivory has relied on his position and authority as a Utah state legislator to persuade unsuspecting local officials that if they contribute taxpayer dollars to his charity, they can help their states acquire federal land and increase revenues," Anne Weismann, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, said in a press release.

The Utah Attorney General's Office said it is reviewing the complaint. "Our office takes allegations of fraud very seriously as evidenced by recent high profile white collar cases we have filed," said spokeswoman Missy Larsen.

Ivory brushed it off as "desperate bullying."

"These types of organizations have just destroyed Western public lands through this kind of litigation and bullying tactics," he said. "They're so afraid of the success that the transfer of public lands movement is having that they're stooping to these kinds of bullying tactics because they can't tolerate basic political debate."

Ivory sponsored the Transfer of Public Lands Act that passed the Utah Legislature in 2012, the same year the American Lands Council was formed.

The non-profit Campaign for Accountability, which says it uses research, litigation and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life, notes that legislative attorneys have said Ivory's solution has a high probability of being found unconstitutional. It also points out that an Ivins City Council position paper shows a land transfer would pose complex economic challenges for the state.

Ivory, an attorney, said the group "conveniently" ignores a BYU Law Review article and other legal opinions that conclude the federal government has a duty to dispose of the land.

The American Lands Council raises money by offering memberships to individuals, businesses and counties that range from $50 a year to $25,000 a year.

The organization took in about $228,000 in 2013, according to its most recently filed tax forms. Ivory was paid $95,000 in salary, and his wife, Rebecca Ivory, received $19,715 as communications director. In 2012, the American Lands Council raised about $123,000, and paid Ivory a $40,000 salary.

"It’s a fledgling organization that’s devoted to education. I’m the primary educator, and so they pay my salary,” he said.

Ivory said he has set aside his law practice, making his work for the American Lands Council largely his primary job. Ivory said his pay is a small fraction of the salaries that environmental groups pay their top officers.

Utah has led several western states in a renewed push over the past few years to take control of public lands managed by the federal government. State officials argue the state would be a better manager and local control would allow Utah to make money from taxes and development rights on those acres.

Contributing: Associated Press

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