BLM chief’s financial ties to law group run deep

By Jennifer Yachnin | 10/16/2019 01:22 PM EDT

Acting Bureau of Land Management chief William Perry Pendley testifying at a Capitol Hill hearing last month.

Acting Bureau of Land Management chief William Perry Pendley testifying at a Capitol Hill hearing last month. Francis Chung/E&E News

The Bureau of Land Management’s top official recused himself last month from decisionmaking tied to nearly five dozen organizations and individuals — including a two-year ban on clients represented by his former law firm — but newly disclosed documents show his financial ties to some of those interests will last a lifetime.

A copy of William Perry Pendley’s financial disclosure report, filed with the Office of Government Ethics in late August, details his fiscal relationship with the nonprofit Mountain States Legal Foundation, where he served as president until early December 2018 (Greenwire, Jan. 29).

The report, provided to E&E News by the Montana-based Western Values Project, shows Pendley was paid a $224,000 "salary" before he left the foundation. He was scheduled to receive an additional $324,000 payment on or before Sept. 12.


In addition, Pendley is set to receive an unspecified "lifelong payment" from the law firm as part of a charitable gift annuity. Such arrangements allow donors to transfer assets to a charity for partial tax deductions as well as a future income stream.

In his disclosure, Pendley values the annuity between $250,001 and $500,000. In exchange for stock and cash transferred to the nonprofit, Perry and his wife are scheduled to receive payments beginning in April 2025.

Pendley wrote in his financial disclosure report, triggered by his appointment as BLM’s deputy director of policy and program in July, that he does not, however, have a pension or other defined benefit plan related to his work at the foundation.

In an email to BLM employees last month, Pendley asked agency employees to review a 17-page list of recusals "before discussing a particular matter with me."

"I understand that preserving a culture of ethical compliance within the BLM begins with me, and I must set the example for the Bureau," Pendley wrote in the email (Greenwire, Sept. 25).

Other organizations listed in his recusal include SiriusXM and the Property Rights Foundation of America. Pendley’s financial disclosure reveals that he owns 207 shares of SiriusXM stock, valued at about $1,300. He also received a payment of $1,500 for a speech to the property rights group in 2018.

But conservation advocates, who have criticized Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for handing leadership of BLM to Pendley, assert the financial disclosure furthers arguments that Pendley should step down from his post.

"Between Acting BLM Director Perry Pendley’s some 57 conflicts of interest and his deep financial ties to Mountain States Legal Foundation, the anti-public lands front group he used to represent, we’re not sure there is any work he would be legally allowed to do," said Western Values Project Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill.

O’Neill went on to slam Pendley, a self-proclaimed sagebrush rebel, for his past advocacy for the sale or transfer of public lands.

"His past as an anti-public lands zealot is absolutely relevant," O’Neill added.

Pendley has sought to rebut perceptions of his record in recent months, arguing that he intends to "follow orders" from the Trump administration (Greenwire, Sept. 6).