by Andrew Kerr
President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Land Management helped a wealthy land developer secure county approval to build a neighborhood subdivision in 2006. Two years later, while working as a staffer for Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the nominee received a below-market rate personal loan from the same developer.
The nominee, Tracy Stone-Manning, reported in her financial disclosure that in 2020 she paid off a $50,000 to $100,000 personal loan she had received from the Montana land developer, Stuart Goldberg, in 2008 at a 6% interest rate, which was about half the going rate of a personal loan at the time, according to federal reserve data. The American Accountability Foundation, a conservative watchdog group, said the terms of the loan raised “serious questions” about whether it constituted an “impermissible gift” to Stone-Manning in violation of Senate ethics rules.
Amid questions about the loan during her confirmation hearing in June, Stone-Manning described Goldberg as a friend who stepped in to help her family during the 2008 financial crisis.
Goldberg contributed $2,100 to Tester’s campaign in 2006, Federal Election Commission records show.
But Stone-Manning did not mention during her confirmation hearing that two years prior to receiving Goldberg’s loan, she had used her position as the director of a conservation nonprofit to help his company receive unanimous approval from the Missoula County Board of Commissioners to build residential homes on a 19-acre subdivision of a 286-plot of land owned by the company.
Identifying herself as the director of the Clark Fork Coalition during an April 12, 2006, public meeting, Stone-Manning told the Missoula commissioners that she wouldn’t typically throw her weight behind such a real estate development proposal, but indicated she would make an exception for Goldberg because his company had negotiated conservation easements for the remaining 266-acres of land where no development was planned.
“We stand here before you today and ask you to support this proposal,” Stone-Manning said at the meeting, according to minutes obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation. “I don’t think you’re used to hearing us say that, but we believe this development really has astounding merit.”
“I really feel like the population of Missoula County has dodged a bullet with this proposal,” she added. “That through no expenditure of public income, we get protected what we all so cherish … So I hope that you will support it, thanks.”
American Accountability Foundation president Tom Jones told the DCNF that Stone-Manning’s receipt of Goldberg’s loan in 2008 while serving as Tester’s regional director was “deeply problematic.”
“The close timing of the favorable comment and the questionable loan at the very least creates the appearance of impropriety, which is deeply problematic for Senate staff,” Jones said.
Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas pressed Stone-Manning about the loan during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June.
“According to your disclosure, it looks like you received that an interest rate of 6 percent, but the going rate of a consumer loan was 11 percent,” Marshall said. “Do you feel that’s some type of conflict of interest to take out a personal loan when you’re working for a United States Senator? And were you aware the difference in the interest rate was significantly below the average?”
Stone-Manning responded: “Ethics are deeply important to me. Like many families in 2008 we got smacked by the recession and a friend loaned us some money to make sure that we could get through it. And we came to terms, and we honored the loan.”
Senate Ethics Committee rules state that Senate staffers may only take out loans “on terms generally available to the public.” The American Accountability Foundation wrote that Stone-Manning’s 6% loan with Goldberg was on terms not available to the public at the time, and therefore was a “substantial” impermissible gift that could have exceeded more than $100,000.
Stone-Manning has not yet provided answers to follow-up questions about the loan from Republican members of the committee as of Thursday, a spokesman for the committee’s ranking member, Sen. John Barrasso, told the DCNF.
Goldberg did not return a request for comment.
Republican opposition to Stone-Manning’s confirmation has grown considerably in recent weeks following reports by the DCNF and other outlets about her involvement in a 1989 tree spiking incident.
Multiple Republican senators have accused Stone-Manning of providing false answers to the committee in regards to her involvement in the tree spiking incident and called for her nomination to be revoked.
Tracy Stone-Manning—a former member of the ecoterrorist group Earth First—is unfit to lead @BLMNational, an agency w/ enormous power over federal lands, particularly in Alaska.
Last night, I called on @POTUS to withdraw her nomination.
— Sen. Dan Sullivan (@SenDanSullivan) June 22, 2021
Former Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey, who led the agency during most of former President Barack Obama’s first term, also said Stone-Manning’s involvement in the eco-terrorism case is disqualifying.
“BLM needs a really strong leader,” Abbey said. “To put someone in that position that has this type of resume will just bring needless controversy that is not good for the agency or for the public lands.”
The White House has remained supportive of Stone-Manning’s nomination amid the blowback.
“Tracy Stone-Manning is a dedicated public servant who has years of experience and a proven track record of finding solutions and common ground when it comes to our public lands and waters,” the White House said in a statement Tuesday, according to Fox News. “She is exceptionally qualified to be the next Director of the Bureau of Land Management.”
A vote for Stone-Manning’s nomination has not yet been scheduled.
The White House and the Bureau of Land Management did not return requests for comment.
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Andrew Kerr is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Tracy Stone-Manning” by Tracy Stone-Manning.