Op-ed: Western Freedom Festival wastes tax money on Ivory’s political agenda

Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

By: Anne Weismann, Campaign for Accountability, 10/22/15

On Friday, Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory is scheduled to speak at the Western Freedom Festival in Cedar City, a daylong conference that purports to “honor, pay respect, and pledge continued support to preserve western culture, lifestyle, heritage, family values and freedom…”. In reality, the conference is yet another publicly funded venue for Ivory to promulgate his fraudulent agenda.

In June, my organization, Campaign for Accountability, asked the Utah Attorney General to investigate Mr. Ivory for fraud. As the president of the American Lands Council (ALC), a 501(c)4 nonprofit, Ivory advocates for legislation that would require the U.S. government to transfer federally owned lands back to the states. Numerous legal authorities have concluded that his proposal is patently unconstitutional. Moreover, a significant portion of ALC’s budget, which is raised from county and local governments, has gone to pay Ivory and his wife — more than $100,000 in 2013. The Western Freedom Festival appears to be Ivory’s latest ploy to recruit additional supporters.

County commissioners in six southern Utah counties and the mayor of Escalante are organizing the festival — and paying for it with taxpayer funds. They claim the purpose of the event is to honor traditional Utah values, but several of the commissioners are intricately tied to Rep. Ivory and ALC.

Doug Heaton and Alan Gardner, for example, are county commissioners in Kane and Washington counties, respectively, which are helping organize the festival. Both sit on ALC’s three-person board of directors, and Heaton has spoken at numerous local government meetings, promoting ALC’s agenda and seeking financial support for the group.

Iron County Commissioner David Miller, a principal organizer of the festival, has repeatedly criticized the management of federal lands and voiced his support for Ivory’s ALC agenda at meeting in southern Utah in September 2013. All six counties involved in organizing the festival have contributed taxpayer funds to Ivory’s ALC.

Not surprisingly, Ivory is expected to play a prominent role at the festival. He is scheduled to lead one of the first sessions of the day about the transfer of public lands, and another on federalism. The conference also includes several panels about the proper role of federal government regulation.

Despite the public financial support for the conference, it has not been without controversy. The Iron County School District, for instance, decided against allowing its student choir to perform there after parents raised objections about the event’s political nature.

The Western Freedom Festival is simply another effort by Ivory and his allies to use public funds to advance an unconstitutional political agenda. Utahns should skip the festival and demand county officials explain why hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being wasted supporting such hogwash.

Anne Weismann is the executive director of Campaign for Accountability, a government watchdog group based in Washington.