Nevada first lady Dawn Gibbons said Friday that she did nothing wrong in working in 2004 as a paid consultant for a defense company that got a federal contract with help from her husband, Gov. Jim Gibbons, then a Republican congressman.
"I have nothing to hide. I was doing stuff that was good for my state. I didn't do anything wrong," Dawn Gibbons said.
The first lady said she did "a lot of work" for Sierra Nevada Corp., promoting a high-tech, hand-held security device designed for use by police agencies.
Dawn Gibbons worked for the Sparks, Nev.-based firm the same year her husband, who sat on the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees, pushed for the company to get a $4 million contract to make a helicopter radar system, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group. Funding was approved at $2 million.
Dawn Gibbons disclosed her contract, amounting to about $35,000,
in 2005. She said in a telephone interview that Sierra Nevada Corp.
"got a bargain for the work I did ... Believe me, they got their money's worth."
Dawn Gibbons previously worked as a state assemblywoman and the
owner of a wedding chapel and florist.
Questions about the consulting fees surfaced as the FBI continues to probe the governor's associations with another company awarded secret military contracts while Gibbons was in Congress.
Dawn Gibbons said she's applying for a second mortgage on her home to help cover the legal costs stemming from the FBI probe. Those costs include the expense of hiring Abbe Lowell, a high-priced Washington, D.C., lawyer.
The loan is needed because a legal defense fund that had been formed previously can't be used, Gibbons said.
"Now we have to take out a second on the house because the attorneys have to be paid."
Lowell, commenting on Sierra Nevada Corp., said Dawn Gibbons didn't know about the company's federal helicopter radar contract. Sierra Nevada got the contract for research to develop a landing system to help pilots land in "brownout" conditions.
Sierra Nevada said funding for the lifesaving technology was approved for it and other companies before Dawn Gibbons was hired as a consultant.
Lowell said Dawn Gibbons "had a pre-existing relationship" with the company and its owners that "began long before her husband became a congressman." Gibbons served five terms in Congress before being elected governor last November.
"Of course, it is completely proper for a spouse of a public official to have a career, including serving as a public official herself or working in the private sector to help support her family," Lowell stated.
Ryan Alexander, head of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said, "There is no circumstance where a congressman should earmark to companies that enrich his family bottom line."
House rules don't prohibit a member's spouse from working in the private sector or contracting with the federal government, though guidelines instruct members to "avoid circumstances suggesting that they receive direct or indirect benefits that influence official acts."
A report on the Sierra Nevada Corp. contract, published Friday by the Wall Street Journal, comes amid ongoing federal scrutiny of Jim Gibbons' business dealings. The FBI is investigating whether Gibbons failed to properly report gifts or payments from eTreppid Technologies LLC of Reno, owned by Warren Trepp, a longtime Gibbons friend who contributed nearly $100,000 to Gibbons' campaign for governor.
The case arose out of a civil lawsuit brought against Trepp by a one-time business partner. In the lawsuit, which involves ownership of software codes, Trepp's former partner, Dennis Montgomery, made
allegations that Gibbons used his influence to steer tens of millions of dollars in military contracts to Trepp.
According to the Journal, a federal grand jury in Washington has begun issuing document subpoenas in that investigation.
The payments by Sierra Nevada to Dawn Gibbons were made through
a consulting firm she set up called Politek Inc., whose biggest client was her husband's 2004 congressional campaign.
Campaign finance records show that the Gibbons campaign organization paid Politek $93,424. Education First, a ballot question group set up by the Gibbons, paid Politek $18,000 more. The group's proposal, to ensure education is funded before other spending bills, won final voter approval in 2006.
"I worked my butt off for him and for Education First," Dawn Gibbons said. "I'm good at politics. Jim didn't have any problems when I was working on his campaigns."
Lowell said Dawn Gibbons consulted for many clients, including her husband's gubernatorial campaign and Education First, handling "innumerable tasks."
"Of course, a professional woman is entitled to pursue professional projects based on her own skills and experience without the assumption that her work is illegitimate solely because of he husband's position," Lowell said.
Gibbons said she's frustrated by what she sees as an inference that "I'm not qualified. Well, I am."
"I've been in business all my life, I've worked all my life. I can't work (for pay) now because if I did anything someone would say it's a conflict," she said. "Fine, I will work for free."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)