Explanations about Dawn Gibbons' side deal less than satisfactory

Apparently, I just don't understand the nature of consulting agreements, the art of public relations and the essence of power couple politics.

Gov. Jim Gibbons and first lady Dawn Gibbons understand these things. After learning that I was perturbed because their chief of staff had been less than forthcoming when I asked him in February whether the first lady had had any consulting deals with companies her husband had helped win military contracts as a congressman, they called to set me straight.

First, they assured me that their trusted friend Mike Dayton would never intentionally mislead me. They were sorry, sort of, for the mix-up, but they wanted me to know they had nothing to hide.

That means Dayton had nothing to hide on their behalf.

Dayton denied the first lady had a consulting contract with a company her husband was assisting in gaining a multimillion-dollar military contract. But it turns out Dawn Gibbons received a $35,000 consulting deal with Sparks-based Sierra Nevada Corp., which with Congressman Gibbons' help eventually received a government deal worth $2 million.

Gov. Gibbons said his wife's side deal was neither unique nor illegal. Nor, he added, was it in any way unseemly.

The first lady said she gladly would have filled me in if she had known I was concerned. Dayton didn't tell her. Was it because he was sure she's never had a deal, or misunderstood my questions?

As for the governor's take on Dayton's deception?

"How can I apologize for something I did not do or didn't know about?" he asked.

Spoken like a man who spent too many years in Congress.

I wasn't looking for an apology, governor. I was looking for a reasonable explanation of your wife's laughable side deal.

By way of explanation, Gov. Gibbons was quick to tell me that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's son, Key Reid, represented Sierra Nevada. And Harry Reid was also a big supporter of the Nevada company. Gibbons quickly named other wives and relatives of members of Congress also working for companies that just happen to lobby the elected officials for lucrative government contracts. There's nothing wrong with that, he said.

Forget for a moment that Key Reid, whatever his legal experience, is a licensed attorney. Dawn Gibbons' public relations experience appears limited to the fact she once owned wedding chapels.

But it's just my lack of understanding that makes me believe Dawn Gibbons' $35,000 show-and-tell was essentially tip money for a congressman's wife.

When I asked her about the dearth of press releases bearing her name and contact telephone number from the Sierra Nevada Web site and Google search generally, Dawn Gibbons almost audibly shrugged over the phone. "Well, duh, silly," her tone said.

"I don't know how many press releases I wrote," she said.

Well, how about none?

She said she instead focused on networking with decision-makers and setting up demonstrations of Sierra Nevada's BlackBerry-like emergency communications equipment. Somehow, the thought of the future first lady's PR skills being all that stands between Nevada and terrorist chaos leaves me feeling less than secure.

She said she first went to Jerry Bussell, the controversial former state homeland security chief, for his thoughts. Then, she said, she sought out state Division of Emergency Management chief Frank Siracusa.

After that she made contact with former Sheriff Jerry Keller, a security executive at Wynn Las Vegas, and then-Las Vegas FBI Special Agent In Charge Ellen Knowlton, among others.

"There were lots of meetings to even get to that point," she said. Those meetings resulted in a demonstration and, although I couldn't find any press coverage, a news conference.

All that time, Gov. Gibbons said, he was unaware his wife represented Sierra Nevada. That's right. The $35,000 side job didn't come up once at the breakfast table.

"It was separate and independent from me, and I knew nothing about that," he said. "I don't know what the details were."

He added that the "very highly classified" nature of Sierra Nevada's effort prevented him from talking to her about it. Which, of course, wouldn't have prevented her from mentioning it to him. Was she so bad at public relations that not even her husband knew?

I may lack a depth of understanding in such matters, but I have to admit PR consultant Dawn Gibbons is getting plenty of publicity now.

• John L. Smith's column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal's Opinion page. E-mail him at smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.


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