How Politicians Are Using Taxpayer Money To Fund Their Campaign and To Sell Off America’s Public Lands

— by Matt Lee-Ashley, Guest Contributor at ThinkProgress-Climate

west land
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/REED SAXON

The recent Cliven Bundy debacle in Nevada put a national spotlight on the long-running, and long-failing, effort by right-wing Western legislators to seize federal public lands and either turn them over to the states or sell them to the highest bidder.

While the renewal of this so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” has thus far been carried out with limited resources by part-time legislators like State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT), new research shows that its leaders are now using taxpayer money from at least 42 counties in nine Western states to advance an aggressive and coordinated campaign to seize America’s public lands and national forests for drilling, mining, and logging.

According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website.

Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions.

Legal experts report that Utah’s law, and similar bills being advanced by ALC and ALEC are in clear violation of Article IV of the Constitution, are in conflict with the laws that established Western states, and would be overturned if ever tested in federal court.

As the American Lands Council has grown in influence and resources, its activities have received new scrutiny. ALC President Ken Ivory, for example, reportedly earned more than $40,000 from the organization in 2012 (his salary for 2013 has not yet been disclosed). According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ivory’s wife, Becky, also receives payments from the ALC.

A recent fundraising email obtained by ThinkProgress also shows that at least one ALC member, Washington County, Utah Commissioner Alan Gardner, is using his government title and government email account to raise money for ALC’s lobbying efforts and training of political candidates.

The fundraising solicitation that was sent from Gardner’s official government email address on June 13 asks county governments to contribute $1,000 to become a “Bronze” member, $5,000 to become a “Silver” member, or $25,000 to become a “Gold” member of the ALC.  Gardner confirmed to ThinkProgress that he was the author of the email.

The fundraising solicitation says that up to $100,000 will be spent by ALC on a “Campaign Project” aimed at equipping candidates for federal, state, and county office with “materials and resources to build broad based Knowledge and Courage to compel Congress to honor its promise to us and our children to transfer title to the public lands….” Gardner’s email also reports that the funds will be used for lobbyists, a legal team, polling, and engaging the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

ALC’s use of county funds adds to the growing cost to taxpayers of the right-wing land seizure movement. The state of Utah, for example, has already spent more than $500,000 to study a takeover of federal land and has set aside an additional $3 million for legal fees to fight the federal government in court. In Idaho, when the Attorney General’s office questioned the legality of seizing federal lands, legislators in the state spent more than$20,000 on private counsel. In Nevada, a federal land seizure study cost taxpayers more than $66,000, while a special task force to study the issue in Wyoming cost taxpayers$30,000.

In addition to using taxpayer funds to advance unconstitutional bills to seize federal lands, the ALC also relies on financial support from the mining industry and fossil fuel interest groups. Americans for Prosperity, for example — another group financed by the Koch brothers — is listed as a “Bronze Member” of ALC. Mesa Exploration, a mining company whose recent proposal to build a potash mine in an area that the Donner Party crossed in 1846 was recently nixed by federal land managers, is also listed as a “Bronze Member” on ALC’s website.

Matt Lee-Ashley is a senior fellow and director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter at @MLeeAshley.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

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Protect Arches and Canyonlands from Fracking

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is on the verge of opening over 80,000 acres of land just miles from Arches and Canyonlands national parks to the dangerous new method of oil and gas drilling called fracking.

Despite the clear danger to these precious national treasures, and serious concerns over nearby Moab’s drinking water, BLM is moving forward with a February oil and gas lease auction without even preparing an environmental impact statement to determine the full consequences.1

BLM should be protecting precious places like Arches and Canyonlands, not blindly paving the way for oil and gas companies to endanger them.

Tell the Bureau of Land Management: Don’t frack near Arches National Park.

This lease sale would open the area to fracking, a radical new method of oil and gas drilling that involves injecting huge amounts of water, chemicals, and sand deep underground to fracture rocks. Fracking contaminates groundwater, pollutes the air, and generates millions of gallons of toxic, radioactive wastewater.2 If this lease sale moves forward, Arches and Canyonlands could forever be transformed by this invasive practice.

Fracking requires the full-scale industrialization of the entire surrounding region, including a vast transport network of pipelines and compressor stations venting toxic air pollution, and open pits to store poisonous wastewater. Each fracking well also requires thousands of visits by diesel trucks hauling water, sand and toxic chemicals.

And it isn’t just the national parks that are at risk. Moab’s geology makes it uniquely susceptible to water contamination, and Congress never completed a comprehensive groundwater study of Moab’s aquifer, so the frackers would be drilling blind.3 Plus, they’re not considering the impact an earthquake caused by fracking activities will have on our national parks.

Moab’s economy depends on the tourism industry, which can only suffer from an invasion by the fracking industry, which will poison water, and transform unique, precious desert landscapes. Two of America’s great natural beauties would be spoiled by an industry that leaves ruin its wake.

Tell the Bureau of Land Management: Don’t frack near Arches National Park.

1. Christopher Smart, “Potential for ‘fracking’ near Moab raises drinking water concerns,”The Salt Lake Tribune, August 30, 2012
2. “Hydraulic Fracturing 101,” Earthworks
3. Kristin Mills, “Oil and gas parcels raise water Qs,” Moab Sun News, August 29, 2012