17
Mar

By: Brian Maffly, The Salt Lake Tribune, 3/15/16

Newly released documents show that state Rep. Ken Ivory, the Western lawmaker most identified with the land-transfer movement, often used his legislative email account to conduct business on behalf of the nonprofit he ran and later concealed that activity from investigators.

These allegations are leveled in a complaint the Campaign for Accountability, or CfA, intends to file Wednesday with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, asking him to reopen a probe into allegations that Ivory scammed county commissioners into ponying up taxpayer money to join the American Lands Council.

CfA contends emails it obtained through a records request prove Ivory exploited his position as a state lawmaker to raise money and support for the council’s controversial agenda.

“Ken Ivory is a publicly elected official, paid to do the work of the people of Utah and represent their interests,” CfA executive director Anne Weismann said. “Instead, he flagrantly misused his public position for personal gain, using official legislative resources to advance his own agenda, and then lied about this misuse to criminal investigators.”

Since he joined the Utah House in 2011, questions have swirled around Ivory’s dual roles of West Jordan representative and land-transfer advocate, whose compensation comes primarily from right-wing benefactors and county members of ALC.

Ivory, a lawyer, sponsored the 2012 Utah Public Lands Transfer Act, which calls on the federal government to cede title to 31 million acres of public land to the state.

That year he also helped found ALC, whose board consists of rural county commissioners. In that role, he has gone on the road to pitch the land-transfer cause around the West, arguing the federal government reneged on a promise to “return” land to the states and has made a mess of managing natural resource.

So far, no other state has enacted statutes demanding transfer; the Arizona Legislature has twice passed such bills only to be vetoed by Republican governors.

Ivory, who recently stepped down as ALC president, has come under repeated attack from out-of-state government watchdog groups alleging he skirts various laws to garner support for his cause and thwart amicable resolution of conflicts between federal agencies and local governments. Formal complaints have been filed in four states, but nothing has stuck so far, though the Colorado secretary of state found “reasonable grounds to believe” ALC violated that state’s lobbyist-disclosure rules.

Ivory did not respond to an email request for comment. In the past, he has questioned the motives of CfA, characterizing its fraud complaint as “bullying” aimed as stifling debate.

“You have desperate, shadowy D.C. groups that are afraid that they’re going to lose their stranglehold over the Western lands and they resort to these sorts of shady tactics,” Ivory told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this year.

Last October, Reyes’ office cleared Ivory after investigating CfA’s fraud allegations. The Washington, D.C.-based group asserted Ivory raised money by promising counties they could take control of federal lands using a legal argument that Ivory should have known was unconstitutional.

Ivory’s points are supported by a state legal analysis, though many other scholars — including at the University of Utah — contend that Utah doesn’t have much of a case in its fight for the millions of acres.

Reyes’ staff interviewed Ivory and dozens of other witnesses, many of them county commissioners whom Ivory asked to join ALC or provide monetary support, according to investigative files obtained by The Tribune.

The commissioners told investigators that they do not believe Ivory deceived them, saying he is doing a great job advancing their interest in exerting more control over lands in their counties.

ALC board member Doug Heaton, a Kane County commissioner, decried the complaint as a “deceptive publicity stunt.”

“Ken Ivory is a man of impeccable integrity, an unfailing advocate of liberty, and a brilliant legal mind,” he said in a prepared statement last year.

CfA’s new complaint focuses on Ivory’s denying to investigators that he used Utah state letterhead or email systems in connection with his ALC activities. Weismann’s group obtained Ivory’s legislative email traffic and found plenty of instances to the contrary.

For example, in November 2013, Ivory sent a message through the state email system to Natrona County Commission Chairman Forrest Chadwick in an effort to recruit the Wyoming county to ALC.

In 2012, Ivory forwarded a videographer’s invoice to his legislative assistant with instructions to pay the bill using ALC funds. Ivory also that year arranged to host an ALC meeting in a Capitol room, according to CfA.

Demar Dahl, a Nevada county commissioner who co-founded ALC and served as board chairman, told investigators that he did not recall Ivory conducting the group’s affairs from Utah state email systems or while holding himself out as a lawmaker. CfA uncovered 23 emails Dahl received from Ivory’s legislative account, many of them clearly devoted to ALC business.

Ivory’s “theft of government property carries the added danger of inaccurately implying Rep. Ivory is conducting these activities in his legislative capacity and using the full weight of his government office to induce and coerce other governmental entities into joining ALC at membership rates that go a long way toward paying his overgenerous ALC salary and that of his wife,” the complaint alleges.

An auditor at the Utah Department of Commerce, however, told investigators last year that salaries paid to Ivory and others did not raise red flags. ALC’s 2014 and 2013 tax returns showed that, of the $546,000 the group spent in the two years, $342,000 was spent on staff salaries and benefits. Ivory was paid $230,000, and wife Becky, ALC’s communications director, was paid $38,000, records show.

Last month, Ivory left his paid employ with ALC to further his land-transfer mission with the group Federalism in Action’s “Free the Lands” campaign. He remains on ALC’s executive committee and has been succeeded as CEO by Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder.