August 31, 2015 In The News, News

MT Attorney General’s Office finds ‘no grounds’ to investigate Utah representative pushing federal land transfer

Photo: Associated Press

By Tom Kuglin, Helena Independent Record, 8/28/2015

The Montana Attorney General’s Office will not investigate fraud claims against a Utah representative pushing for transfer of federal lands to state control.

In early June the Washington D.C.-based Campaign for Accountability filed complaints with the attorneys general 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. Ivory is president of the American Lands Council, the chief western organization pushing for federal land transfers. He made presentations to Ravalli and Sanders county commissioners and presented in Flathead, Mineral and Lincoln counties advising and soliciting funds to push for federal land transfer, the complaint says.

No Montana counties are paying members of the council.

“The Attorney General’s Office reviewed the letter and found no grounds for an investigation,” Department of Justice communication’s director John Barnes said in an email.

The finding was made sometime in August, although Barnes did not have an exact date. A response letter was not mailed to Campaign for Accountability because none was requested, he said.

The department had no further comment on the reason for the decision, Barnes said.

“Obviously it’s to be expected — the letter that came out of this dark money D.C. group with no connection to our rural way of life being burned up as we speak,” Ivory said on Thursday. “They just want to engage in the same type of dark, destructive D.C. politics that’s gotten us into that situation.”

The complaint attempted to demonize the transfer movement and increase federal control, he said. States east of the Rockies “fought the same battle and won” the right to control lands within their borders, he said.

“It’s good to see that common sense prevails,” Ivory said of the attorney general office’s decision.

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

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

When reached on Wednesday, Campaign for Accountability executive director Anne Weismann said she disagreed with the attorney general office’s findings.

“It’s very disappointing I think — I disagree with the assessment there isn’t enough to warrant an investigation,” she said.

The complaint was based on information found only in the public domain and the attorney general has the ability “to go deeper and investigate”, she said. The transfer movement has gained momentum, but one reason for not investigating could be that no Montana counties are American Lands Council members, she speculated.

“In the end the entitles really hurt by this are local counties and governments,” Weisman said. “I think the attorney general is doing a disservice to the people of Montana. All we can do now is keep an eye on Mr. Ivory and his actions.”

Weisman has not received a response to the complaints filed in Utah or Arizona.