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Hey, Santorum’s hogging the Twizzlers!

January 5, 2007

I was sorry to see Sen. Rick Santorum booted from the U.S. Senate when he lost to Bob Casey in November. Now, the Wall Street Journal finds that other senators (both Dems and GOP) might share in those sentiments — albeit for another reason.

Candy drawer in the Senate (senate.gov)It’s all about a bizarre mix of Senate ethics and sugar shock.

The Journal did a fascinating story about a Senate tradition known as the “candy desk” — one selected desk amongst the 100 in the chamber that was packed with sugary sweets that the senators on the floor stop by and pick from at will.

The desk was previously occupied by Santorum, which was appropriate for a unique reason — his homestate and its position in the candy industry.

Sarah Lueck of the WSJ explains:

For a decade until his defeat last year, Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, 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 Mr. Santorum gone, the desk, which is dipped into by many members, has been turned over to Sen. Craig Thomas, a Republican from Wyoming. But his state is better known for bison than bonbons — and that’s a big problem.

Ethics rules forbid members accepting gifts worth $100 or more a year from a single source. One exception covers items produced in a senator’s home state — so long as they’re 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.

In Wyoming, some small outfits sell esoteric sweets, such as chocolates designed to look like moose droppings. But the state 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, says Susan Smith, a spokesman for the National Confectioners Association. “It would be difficult for us to do now.”

The WSJ goes on to detail the desk’s tradition further — that the desk has always been located near the back of the chamber near one of the entrances.

Santorum, despite his rise in seniority and position in the GOP, held onto that desk.

The article explains:

Mr. Santorum made a point of keeping the desk even as he rose in seniority to highlight his state’s prowess. Pennsylvania companies sent about 100 pounds of candy to Mr. Santorum’s office each quarter, says Robert Traynham, the ex-senator’s former spokesman. That’s equivalent to about 38,000 Hershey’s kisses a year.

It’s also funny that the new holder of that desk, Sen. Craig Thomas of Wyoming, is struggling to figure out how to keep the tradition alive, without breaking ethics rules.

Mr. Thomas, who came to Washington in 1989 to take Dick Cheney’s seat in the House and was elected to the Senate five years later, vows to continue the tradition — somehow. “The candy desk has been my favorite for a while,” he says. He admits to regularly dipping into Mr. Santorum’s stash.

The senator’s spokesman, Cameron Hardy, says his boss requested the seat because “he likes the idea of sharing with his colleagues.” Yet Mr. Hardy concedes that Mr. Thomas and his staff initially weren’t familiar with how the candy desk worked.

“I don’t think anyone realized it was a big undertaking,” he says, or that candy companies played a role in supplying the goodies.

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