It doesn’t matter where you sit on the political spectrum. Following politics in the United States can be downright depressing sometimes. No one can seem to agree on anything, and it’s easy to become disillusioned by the entire political process. However, once in a while, our elected officials come together in bipartisan support of a common cause. One such point of agreement is the so-called Candy Desk.
Located in the last row of the US Senate Chamber, close to often-used elevators on the Republican side, sits a mahogany desk that makes Congress seem a bit sweeter. For over 50 years, the desk has been filled with enough candy to satisfy the needs of any and all sweet-toothed politicians.
Candy Desk Origins
The tradition of the Candy Desk dates back to 1965. Republican George Murphy had recently been elected as the Senator from California. Murphy was a former Hollywood actor and singer, starring in musicals like Broadway Melody of 1940 and For Me and My Gal. He enjoyed entertaining others, and a short time after joining the Senate, he started keeping candy in his back-row desk, not only for himself, but for fellow Senators from both parties as well.
Unfortunately for Murphy, his popularity among his colleagues wasn’t enough to win over voters in the following election. He was voted out of office after only one term. His Candy Desk, however, did not go away.
For nearly 20 years, Senators Paul Fannin, Harrison Schmitt, Roger Jepsen, and Steve Symms quietly continued the Candy Desk tradition. For a while, the desk was only stocked with hard candy, but Senator Symms decided to do things a little differently, adding chocolate to the mix when he occupied the desk.
The Candy Desk Goes Public
In 1985, Senator Slade Gorton, a Republican from Washington, took over the Candy Desk, and revealed its existence to the public. Gorton also did things a little differently. To promote local businesses, he was the first senator to offer candies made solely in his home state of Washington.
Since Gorton, other senators have continued that aspect of the tradition. Senators like John McCain and Rick Santorum are known to have taken particular pride in the desk. Santorum allegedly was once offered a desk closer to the front due to his seniority, but declined. He didn’t want to give up the Candy Desk.
Speaking of Santorum, though not always the most popular politician, he deserves credit for taking the profile of the Candy Desk to another level. Being from Pennsylvania, home to Hersey and Just Born (Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, etc.), he was able to bring many well-known candies to the desk. When Santorum did not win re-election in 2006, Kirk Saville, a spokesman for Hershey, said the company was “pleased to be a small part of sweetening up congressional proceedings.”
While everyone loves candy, the desk has raised some important ethical questions. Senators cannot accept gifts worth $100 or more from a single source. How then, could companies like Hershey donate so much candy? Well, it turns out there is a provision in the Senate Code of Conduct that allows for donated products from a senator’s home state, so long as they are for free distribution and always available to visitors – candy included.
What happens then, if you come from a state with no major candy manufacturing?
That was the case for Wyoming Senator Craig Thomas when he took over the Candy Desk after Santorum in 2007. Thomas could not accept candy donations from others states. To avoid a sugar crash, and possible government shutdown, Thomas had to get in touch with many small confectioners in Wyoming. He eventually was able to stock the desk, ensuring that the Senate could continue get their sugar fix.
The Candy Desk Today
After Thomas’s death in 2007, a handful of others have looked after the Candy Desk. Senators George Voinovich, Mel Martinez, and George LeMieux all had pretty short stays at the desk. Mark Kirk of Illinois occupied the desk from 2011 to 2015.
Today, Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania occupies the desk. Said Toomey upon being assigned to the desk, “(I) hope Pennsylvania’s treats will sweeten the bitter partisan atmosphere.”
Mike and Ike in 2020? Now that seems like something everyone can get behind.