Watchdog Calls on IRS and Utah Agencies to Investigate Anti-Public Lands Group for Tax Violations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 23, 2020
Contact: Michael Clauw, email@example.com, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group focused on public accountability, called on the IRS, the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, and the Utah State Auditor to investigate whether the anti-public lands group Foundation for Integrated Resource Management (FIRM) violated state and federal law by misusing taxpayer funds and by failing to accurately disclose its revenue on its annual tax returns. CfA’s requests for investigation detail how FIRM failed to initiate litigation, as required by its $400,000 state contracts, and underreported the amount of money it received. Research into FIRM’s finances was conducted by Montana-based Western Values Project for their Money Trails initiative, which documents the influence of anti-public lands groups throughout the West.
CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “FIRM signed two contracts and received $400,000 in state funding to file lawsuits against the federal government, yet the group has completely failed to abide by the terms of its contracts. Moreover, FIRM failed to accurately disclose its contracts to the IRS on its annual tax returns. State and federal authorities need to investigate FIRM and hold the group accountable for failing to uphold its obligations.”
FIRM was established in 2013 to litigate and promote the transference of federal public lands to organizations within the State of Utah. In 2016, the Utah State Legislature awarded FIRM $250,000 “to fund legal challenges to federal governmental restrictions on public land.” In 2017, FIRM received an additional $150,000 in taxpayer money that was appropriated to pursue land transfers “through: (1) Education; (2) Negotiation; (3) Legislation; and (4) Litigation, as applicable.”
Yet, as of June 2020, FIRM has not filed any lawsuits against the federal government to obtain control of federal lands. Rather, the organization seems to focus its resources on lobbying and “educating” lawmakers. Several months after receiving its $250,000 grant in 2016, FIRM employed Jeremiah Riley, a lawyer and FIRM’s House Counsel, to lobby on its behalf. According to its 990s, FIRM paid Mr. Riley $10,881 in 2017 and $17,388 in 2018. However, FIRM failed to disclose any lobbying spending on those same forms. In response to the question, “Did the organization engage in lobbying activities or have a section 501(h) election in effect during the tax year?,” FIRM checked the “NO” box.
Additionally, FIRM dramatically underreported the amount of money it received on its annual 990 tax forms. Between 2016 and 2017, FIRM received a total $400,000 through its contracts with the State of Utah. Yet, FIRM reported to the IRS that received less than $190,000 during those two years.
The fine for an organization of FIRM’s size that files an inaccurate or incomplete Form 990 with the IRS is up to $10,500 or 5 percent of its gross receipts (whichever is less). According to Money Trail’s analysis, FIRM’s 990s for 2016, 2017, and 2018, indicate it would all be subject to this penalty, leaving the organization potentially liable to fines of more than $30,000. The IRS can revoke FIRM’s tax-exempt status. Finally, it is a federal crime, punishable by up to three years in prison and a $100,000 fine, to submit a false return or provide untrue information to the IRS.
Mr. Stevens continued, “These flagrant inconsistencies between FIRM’s activities and its filings merit an immediate investigation from both the IRS and watchdogs within the state of Utah. Organizations like FIRM that abuse the public trust must be held accountable.”
Money Trails was created by Western Values Project — an Accountable.US project based in Montana, defending America’s public lands — to document the influence that special interest groups, industry executives, and anti-public lands front groups exert on public lands issues and policy throughout the West. The depth and breadth of influence that special interest groups have on America’s public lands run wide and deep. Money Trails is intended to be a resource for the public and policymakers alike in our collective pursuit to expose corruption, combat attacks on our public lands, and protect America’s outdoor heritage.
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.