Montezuma County undecided about renewing with American Lands Council
A year after joining, the Montezuma County commissioners have not yet renewed their annual membership in the American Lands Council, a controversial group that lobbies for transferring federal public lands to the states.
‘We haven’t made a decision on it yet,” Commission Chair Larry Don Suckla told the Free Press on March 25. He made a similar statement at the commissioners’ meeting on April 4, saying the membership was in limbo.
It was on March 16, 2015, that the board voted 2-0 to join the group with a $1,000 contribution. (Commissioner Keenan Ertel was absent.) The topic was not listed on the agenda for that meeting.
The commissioners have since taken some heat in letters to the editor and other venues for joining the Utah-based group, but it was also popular with many of their supporters, including the local 9-12 group.
The mission of the ALC, according to its website, is “to secure local control of western public lands by transferring federal public lands to willing States.”
The site says the ALC is “a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization of individuals, counties, business, and organizations” that “is leading the charge by giving leaders the knowledge and courage to battle for the only solution big enough to ensure better access, better health, AND better productivity through the Transfer of Public Lands (TPL) to local stewardship.”
The site no longer appears to list the ALC’s members, but at the time it joined, Montezuma was the third county in Colorado to do so, along with Mesa and Montrose. The majority of Utah’s counties are members, as well as two counties in New Mexico, several in Arizona, and a number in other Western states.
Governmental memberships start at $1,000 per year and increase to $25,000 for a “platinum” membership.
The ALC has been under attack almost since its inception over its actions and expenditures.
The group was started in 2012 by Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory and Demar Dahl, a Nevada county commissioner. Questions quickly arose about the comingling of Ivory’s work as a legislator and his lobbying efforts as president of the ALC. Several watchdog groups charged that Ivory was flouting laws, and investigations were launched in four states, but none resulted in charges.
For instance, last June, the nonprofit Campaign for Accountability demanded that the states of Utah, Arizona, and Montana investigate Ivory for fraud, saying the ALC was deluding counties into donating taxpayer money toward the extremely unlikely end of forcing a federal-lands transfer. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, when Utah’s Attorney General Sean Reyes investigated, his staff interviewed numerous county commissioners who had given money to Ivory’s group; they said they did not feel deceived. Reyes then dropped that investigation.
In Colorado, the secretary of state’s office last year found “reasonable grounds to believe” the group had violated rules requiring lobbyists to register as such, but did not pursue charges.
Critics also alleged that the ALC seemed primarily aimed at enriching Ivory’s bank account. Of the $546,000 the ALC reportedly spent in 2013 and 2014, nearly half ($268,000) went to Ivory’s salary and that of his wife, the group’s communications director.
Earlier this year, Ivory stepped down as president of the ALC to become head of the “Free the Lands” campaign of the South Carolina-based group Federalism in Action. Echoing language from the ALC, its web site states, “The transfer of public lands from the hands of the federal government to the states is the only lawful and peaceful solution big enough to tackle these challenges head-on. As such, our ‘Free The Lands’ project will shepherd the transfer to the states from the federal government.”
The “Free the Lands” campaign is described by thinkprogress.org as a joint effort of Federalism in Action, which is backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, and the American Lands Council Foundation.
Ivory is to remain on the executive committee of the ALC in an unpaid position.
Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder is taking over as CEO of the ALC and is also to be unpaid, according to various reports.
Recently Ivory has come under fire again from the Center for Accountability, which charges that Ivory used his legislative email account to promote the ALC’s agenda, then lied about it, saying he had never used state resources to promote the ALC and had never identified himself as a legislator when doing ALC work.
In a March 16 letter to Reyes, the CfA called for Ivory to be investigated for “misusing official resources” and “obstructing justice and engaging in official misconduct by falsely responding to questions. . .” The letter and various emails from Ivory are posted at https://www.documentcloud.org/ documents/2764683-CfA-Ken-Ivory- Complaint-With-Exhibits-3-16-16. html.
Fielder herself is not without controversy. After one of her legislative aides registered as a lobbyist for the ALC, he was asked to resign (and did so) because of the conflict of interest in holding both positions.
In March 2015, Suckla told the Free Press the county joined the American Lands Council because “they’re an advocate for states having the right, if they so choose, to have federal lands transferred over to state jurisdiction.”
Suckla said he believes states could provide better management of public land.
About 37 percent of Montezuma County is federal public land (an additional 33 percent is the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation, though that is often mistakeny lumped in with the rest when talking about “public land”).