SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah-based nonprofit waging a full-time campaign for Western states to take control of millions of acres of federal public lands spent almost half of its revenue on salaries for its co-founder, a Utah lawmaker, and his wife.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, received a $135,000 salary for serving as president of the American Lands Council in 2014, according to the group's most recent federal tax return.
His wife, Rebecca Ivory, received about $18,000 for serving as communications director.
The organization raises money by offering memberships to counties, businesses and individuals.
Critics said the couple is benefiting personally from a long-shot campaign that's relying heavily on taxpayer money.
Ivory said he's a lawyer with 20 years' experience and works 60 hours a week for the organization. His salary in 2014 was $40,000 more than the organization paid him the year earlier.
"This is a very consuming effort, but things are happening all across the nation," Ivory told The Associated Press.
He said county commissioners from Utah and Nevada who serve as the group's directors were pleased with his work and paid him accordingly.
Ivory sponsored legislation four years ago that demanded the federal government transfer control of much of Utah's public lands to the state by 2015. That deadline passed without the federal government offering up about 31 million acres it controls.
In the years since Utah's governor approved the land demand law, Ivory has traveled the country, particularly in the West, marshaling support from local officials and residents. He co-created the tax-exempt nonprofit American Lands Council in 2012 to help with that effort.
About 77 percent the organization's money comes from offering memberships to individuals, businesses and counties. The memberships range from $50 a year to $25,000 a year.
The Colorado-based conservation group Center for Western Priorities requested the tax forms from the American Lands Council. The group is required to release the forms under federal law. The conservation group shared the documents with the AP.
Like other critics of the lands push, Jessica Goad, an advocacy director with Center for Western Priorities, called it "a fringe idea that has very little chance of success."
"It remains clear that the Ivory family is benefiting greatly from this movement," Goad said.
In October, the Utah Attorney General's Office declined to prosecute Ivory and his group after a fraud complaint was filed by a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.
The attorney general's office investigation said it interviewed counties and others who contributed to the group. Investigators said contributors were satisfied and did not feel cheated.
Ivory said as of Dec. 1, he's no longer president of the group because he's taking on a new role directing a new "Free the Lands" project for a national nonprofit called Federalism in Action. He said he'll stay on with the American Lands Council as an adviser.
Supporters of the land demand plan, mainly conservatives, argue Utah and other Western states would be better managers of the land and that local control would allow them to make money from taxes and development rights on those acres.
Ivory said the American Land Council's work has resulted in about 60 bills being introduced in more than a dozen states. Other states have ordered studies on the issue or passed resolutions supporting a lands transfer, but no state has gone as far as Utah, where a commission of state legislators recently voted in support of a lawsuit challenging the U.S. government's control over the land.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is still deciding whether to go forward with the lawsuit, which could cost up to $14 million.