Snacks & Candy

The Politics of Candy

Senate tradition in jeopardy

WASHINGTON -- With Democrats back in control of Congress for the first time in years, much is changing in the nation's capital, including a longtime tradition in the U.S. Senate: the candy desk.

According to The Wall Street Journal, for a decade until his defeat last year, Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) stocked the desk with donations from home-state candy makers including Hershey Co. and Just Born Inc., maker of Hot Tamales and Peanut Chews.

With Santorum gone, the desk, which is dipped into by many members, has been turned over [image-nocss] to Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.). Ethics rules forbid members accepting gifts worth $100 or more a year from a single source, but one exception covers items produced in a senator's home stateso long as they are used primarily by people other than the senator or his staff.

The provision was crafted to allow senators to offer visitors home-grown snacks, such as Florida orange juice or Georgia peanuts, said the report.

Wyoming doesn't have any big, brand-name candy makers who could step into the breach. As a result, the candy-industry lobbying group, which coordinates stocking the desk, is cutting off the sweets, citing Wyoming's candy deficit and ethics rules. We're happy to provide candy if there are [association] members in the home state of the senator who sits at the candy desk, Susan Smith, a spokesperson for the National Confectioners Association (NCA), told the newspaper. It would be difficult for us to do now.

We were pleased to be a small part of sweetening up congressional proceedings, Hershey spokesperson Kirk Saville told the paper.

The candy desk tradition dates to 1968, said the report, citing the Senate Historical Office. That's when Sen. George Murphy, the former actor and film executive, began sharing treats from the back row. He left in 1971, and those who inherited the desk continued his largess. At times, senators asked for specific candy. Others left a few dollars to keep the desk stocked. Over time, the practice became more institutionalized, said Betty K. Koed, assistant historian in the Senate Historical Office. Eventually, the NCA, along with the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (CMA), began to organize donations.

One option is to turn to mom-and-pop shops in Wyoming that make, or repackage, sweets with a frontier flair, the report said. Bessie Zeller has a family business, Queen Bee Gardens, in Lovell, Wyo., which produces caramel-like candies from honey. She already sends about 24 pounds of candy, worth about $185, every couple of months to members of the state's congressional delegation. She gets some payment for the goodies. I don't think we can afford to donate it all, she told the paper.

Mary Ann Kuschel of Cheyenne sells mostly repackaged candy, such as moose doodles (chocolate covered almonds shaped just like moose droppings) and bison balls (round Rice Krispies treats dipped in chocolate, sold in packages of two.) She said her home-based business is ill-equipped to make big donations to the U.S. Senate. I don't think so, she told the Journal. Not for free.

Senate ethics rules may give Thomas some wiggle room, said the report, allowing him to seek contributions from senators whose states are more richly endowed, something he said he is contemplating. Robert Kelner, who heads the election and political law practice at Covington & Burling LLP, told the paper that a candy company could in theory send less than $100 worth of candy to each senator over the course of the year and not violate gift limits.

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