Utah Lawmaker May Have Committed Fraud in Raising Money for Lands Fight

by | June 2, 2015 AT 2:30 PM

By Tom Kuglin

A Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization filed complaints Monday in three western states, including Montana, alleging that a Utah state representative committed fraud in soliciting funds for a federal land transfer organization.

Campaign for Accountability filed complaints with the attorney generals of Montana, Utah and Arizona alleging that Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory, a Republican, engaged in an illegal scheme to defraud taxpayer funds from local governments by telling them the federal government can be forced to transfer public lands to the states. Ivory, president of the American Lands Council, the chief western organization pushing for federal land transfers, has made presentations to Ravalli and Sanders county commissioners and presented in Flathead, Mineral and Lincoln counties, the complaint says.

"It's clear Rep. Ivory will continue to travel western states, enlist more members to try to get more local governments to pay to join and line his pockets," said CFA executive director Anne Weismann. "He's peddling a promise that states will get federal lands returned to them when all sane legal analysis shows the contrary."

Supporters of federal land transfer argue that state lands have superior management and revenues, while opponents have countered that states could not afford to manage the additional lands, resulting in an eventual sell-off.

The complaint alleges Ivory's and the council's stance that the federal government promised to give up the title to lands in state enabling acts has been discredited by various legal authorities. It further alleges that Ivory relied on his credibility and authority as a legislator to attempt to persuade Montana officials to contribute to the council, promising increased state revenues by acquiring federal lands.

The complaint specifically mentions Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, as a Montana official soliciting funds on behalf of the council. Fielder did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Finally, the complaint alleges that Ivory appears to be operating as a lobbyist without having registered or reported per Montana law.

Ivory blasted the complaints Monday, saying they ignored pertinent information and legal decisions and were attempting to stifle debate about fundamental constitutional issues.

"It's just a desperate attempt from the same people who have waged war on federals lands for decades with litigation," he said.

Ivory said he had been invited to Montana several times for educational presentations on federal land transfer, although no Montana counties are currently members of the council. States have not been treated equally when it comes to assuming control of federal lands, and states have a right to demand equality, he said.

Many federal lands are in peril due to restricted access and management, Ivory said.

"This is a life-or-death crisis, and groups like this can't tolerate political debate and resort to these bullying tactics," he said.

Weismann, former legal counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, noted that Campaign for Accountability opened its doors in the last month with the goal of rooting out wrongdoing among government officials.

"Rep. Ivory is a snake oil salesman, cloaked with respectability by his position as a legislator. Local government officials need to learn the truth about Rep. Ivory's claims before they are suckered into parting with taxpayer funds," she said.

County and state officials may not have the same access to legal analysis as her organization, Weismann said when asked why she believed counties had not lodged complaints of their own.

"The fact there aren't other complaints doesn't negate ours or undermine the need for one," she said. "I'd say this is a national issue, not just to Montana, Utah or Arizona, and I think Americans and the public in general have a vested interest that these lands are preserved in their pristine state."

Montana Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes confirmed that the complaint had been received, and that officials would review it and determine what, if any action, should be taken.

(c)2015 Independent Record