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Utah Rep. Ken Ivory’s quest for state control of public lands is all-consuming

Critics say when a cause becomes a source of income, it’s a conflict of interest.

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"They’re getting more than 100 percent of their money’s worth," Ellison said. "They’re probably getting 150 percent."

Ivory touts a string of successes in the two years since Gov. Gary Herbert signed Utah’s first-of-its-kind land-transfer law — which demands Congress turn over tens of millions of federal acres in Utah by December 2014. If it does not, the state could go to court demanding the transfer.

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Five states have since passed laws targeting the transfer of lands (though none has gone as far as Utah); the Republican National Committee unanimously adopted a resolution supporting the transfer of public lands to the states; and various other GOP groups have done the same.

Amid the armed standoff with federal officers at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch last month, Ivory did a series of cable-news interviews about the issue, at the same time avoiding tying the issue too closely to the renegade rancher, calling it "Bigger than Bundy."

"He was put in a very untenable situation," said Ivory, adding it was an overreaction where "in a purely civil matter you have the federal government coming in in the most egregious, uncivilized manner with machine guns and attack dogs and Tasers."

Last month, legislators from around the West gathered at the Utah Capitol to discuss efforts to stake claim to the federal land and form an interstate commission to lay the groundwork for the land transfer.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, who has taken a much more prominent role in the lands issues in recent months, said the gathering of state leaders was an important step.

"I am more encouraged [about the prospects for success] and what I like and what I feel very positive about is lots of legislators, county commissioners and other officeholders and policymakers from the Western states are very much interested in this issue," the Provo Republican said. "We’ve known that is always a critical part of this movement, which is to have Utah not be alone."

However, the "political persuasion" and advocacy for legislation central to the American Land Council’s mission raise questions about whether the group is technically lobbying and whether Ivory should register as a lobbyist.

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Lobbying? • Utah law grants an exemption for officers of organizations, but other states don’t have the same loophole.

In Nevada, where the American Lands Council has been especially active, the secretary of state’s website says an individual must register as a lobbyist if he or she is "paid to represent an entity, group or employer to lobby," or if he or she receives "a salary from an employer and will lobby for their interests or benefit."

In Arizona, a person must register as a lobbyist if he or she plans to attempt to "influence the passage or defeat of any legislation … by directly communicating with any legislator."

Idaho defines a lobbyist as: "Anyone who attempts through contacts with … members of the legislature or legislative committees or an executive official, to influence the approval, modification or rejection of any legislation."

Montana and Wyoming have similar definitions in their laws.

Ivory says he’s not a lobbyist, because he provides information about the land-transfer issues generally, and doesn’t urge lawmakers to pass or defeat specific bills.

"There’s a difference between advocating for a principle and advocating for specific legislation pending before a body," Ivory said. "We’re just trying to teach correct principles and they’re going to do what they do in their state."

Martin Dupalo, a retired political science professor from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas who has studied the state’s ethics laws extensively, said, based on the group’s stated mission of advocating for legislation and the activities in Nevada, it appears Ivory should register as a lobbyist.

Only if he had no contact with any legislators while the bill was in the pipeline might Ivory be able to claim not to have lobbied.

"Nuance or no nuance," Dupalo said, "parsing words does not serve the general public but clearly shields politicians and political activity from the general public view."

For his part, Ivory plans to continue his taxing travel and lecture series — he’s nearly booked through year’s end — and believes that ultimately his crusade must come to fruition.

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