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Mark Kirk & the Candy Desk
March 27, 2012 12:48 PM   Subscribe

What do John McCain, Rick Santorum, and George Voinovich have in common? They have all been seated at the Senate's candy desk throughout their careers.

Located on the Republican side of the aisle, the candy desk has been stocked with sweets since 1965, when Sen. George Murphy (R-CA) started keeping candy in his desk to satisfy his sweet tooth, which he would offer to colleagues passing by. While Sen. Murphy lost his seat in 1970, other senators took up the mantle and kept the tradition going. The desk was the focus of a sticky ethics dilemma when Santorum lost re-election in 2006, but a solution was found in the end. Its current occupant is Mark Kirk (R-IL).

The desks of the Senate Chambers have fascinating histories. For instance, at the beginning of every Congress, the two parties divide the desks so that the Democratic senators sit to the right of the Presiding Officer, and the Republicans to the left. If a party's majority is large enough, some of its senators may end up sitting on the minority side -- a so-called Cherokee Strip.
posted by Bukvoed (35 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
The candy desk is like a perfect encapuslation of what's wrong with the American government. From wiki:
The tenant of the candy desk is charged with stocking it with candy from his or her home state, but funding has been an issue. Originally senators would ask for a specific candy and leave a few dollars to keep the desk stocked with their favorites, but as time continued, and the candy desk became a more solid tradition of the Senate, lobby groups and organizations, specifically the National Confectioners Association, and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, organized donations.
I'm not a Lawrence Lessig, "Money out of politics" type, because influence is usually a lot softer than money. But it's fascinating to watch even the most trivial conventions of our policymakers taken over by interest groups.
posted by downing street memo at 12:56 PM on March 27, 2012 [22 favorites]


What do John McCain, Rick Santorum, and George Voinovich have in common?

To be used throughout this thread when needed.
posted by Fizz at 12:57 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm reminded what my mother told me years ago: don't trust old men with candy.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:57 PM on March 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


but funding has been an issue.

Jesus, with the salaries they make, they don't want to pay for some fucking candy?
posted by Melismata at 1:00 PM on March 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


The wikipedia article for the candy desk links to Traditions of the U.S. Senate, which has all sorts of fascinating things in it, such as...

"Beginning in 1904 and continuing every other year until the 1950s, new members of Congress were given a copy of the Jefferson Bible, an edited version of the Bible by Thomas Jefferson that excluded what he felt were statements about the supernatural. Until the practice first stopped, copies were provided by the Government Printing Office; a private organization, the Libertarian Press, revived the practice in 1997."
posted by elsietheeel at 1:03 PM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the shocking part of the "sticky ethics dilemma" link is that nobody seems to have the wild idea that the Senators order some bulk bags of chocolate.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:04 PM on March 27, 2012


So the Republican candy desk is stocked by a lobbyist, but the Democrat one is more like a club were senators who want candy put in money? Sounds about right.
posted by Big_B at 1:16 PM on March 27, 2012 [22 favorites]


Jesus, with the salaries they make, they don't want to pay for some fucking candy?

I imagine it's like the rest of their policy beliefs - they'd likely be okay with paying for the candy if it was for themselves alone, but they loathe the idea of paying for something that will be given to someone else for free.
posted by elizardbits at 1:17 PM on March 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yeah, cos when I hear the name Santorum first thing I want is some candy...
posted by Skygazer at 1:21 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rick Santorum. Hershey chocolate.

Something, something, something...

Nope. Sorry. I just can't.
posted by Splunge at 1:41 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, cos when I hear the name Santorum first thing I want is some candy...

Well, a breath mint would probably be in order after engaging in Rick Santorum.
posted by asnider at 1:44 PM on March 27, 2012


Melismata: "Jesus, with the salaries they make, they don't want to pay for some fucking candy?"

Considering the costs associated with holding the job, the $174,000 salary that Senators make seems kind of modest.*

I'm not going to play into the hand of those horrible "we're barely getting by at $200k" pepople, but $174k doesn't strike me as a particularly large sum of money for a [usually late-career, experienced, and highly-educated] person who has been elected to lead the country, usually needs to maintain at least two separate residences, and travels almost constantly.

$174k doesn't put you in poverty, but there's a reason why Joe Biden took public transportation to work every morning. Maintaining a senate career on a senate salary, with no additional source of wealth is not terribly sustainable.

I'd be totally okay doubling (or tripling) Senate salaries, as long as it was attached to a stipulation that the salary would be the only income of any kind that the elected Senator would be allowed to earn or spend during his or her term.

*Also consider that the Seantors are the highest-paid people in the Senate. While this makes a lot of logical sense, it makes it difficult to attract and retain support staff at the executive/administrative level. To pick one example at random, the CIO could likely make three times his current salary if he left the Senate for a similarly-sized organization in the private sector.
posted by schmod at 1:54 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Who are three people who've never been in my kitchen?
posted by found missing at 1:54 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh man, now I've got Tom Lehrer's George Murphy stuck in my head.
posted by darksasami at 1:58 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who says that traditions have to be boring and stuffy?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:37 PM on March 27, 2012


I'd be totally okay doubling (or tripling) Senate salaries, as long as it was attached to a stipulation that the salary would be the only income of any kind that the elected Senator would be allowed to earn or spend during his or her term.

And that whoever sits in the Candy Desk must stock it him or herself.
posted by asnider at 3:15 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


And that whoever sits in the Candy Desk must stock it him or herself.

In a nutshell this actually explains much of the power lobbyists have. Congresspeople can't afford to buy 400 pounds of candy a year hire large, well-paid staffs to research and understand issues for them, and so the people who do buy the candy hire large, well-paid staffs get outsized influence in the process. Because really, it's sort of insane that we expect Congress to run a country of 350 million people without candy a large staff of well-paid researchers.
posted by louie at 3:21 PM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


From the "solution" article: So Thomas decided to fill the desk with Wyoming treats, but to pay for them out of his campaign budget. So he's more or less paying for it out of his "own" money. Seems well within reason to me - I'd be happy to donate $50 to my local senator if I knew he was going to spend it on candy for congeniality.
posted by maryr at 3:22 PM on March 27, 2012


Meanwhile, I see why so many senators work mostly out of their office. Those desks, by modern standards, are tiny.
posted by maryr at 3:25 PM on March 27, 2012


Wikipedia says, "Most senators enter the chamber through this door, which is adjacent to elevators leading to one of the stops on the United States Capitol subway system." So, what percentage of Congresspeople take public transit to work?
posted by soelo at 3:30 PM on March 27, 2012


Wikipedia says, "Most senators enter the chamber through this door, which is adjacent to elevators leading to one of the stops on the United States Capitol subway system." So, what percentage of Congresspeople take public transit to work?
Nothing really to do with public transit - there is an almost toy-sized 'subway' system connecting the actual Capitol to the Senate and House office buildings.
posted by kickingtheground at 4:12 PM on March 27, 2012


Sweets to the sour.

How ironic.
posted by bearwife at 4:38 PM on March 27, 2012


louie, there is the Congressional Research Service, part of the Library of Congress, which is staffed by really, really awesome people.
posted by wintermind at 4:42 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


kickingtheground, the thing I miss the most about working on the Hill is the Senate subway.
posted by wintermind at 4:43 PM on March 27, 2012


I love the Senate subway! I gave zillions of Capitol tours as Senate staff assistant, and my tour groups were often young schoolkids. We would occasionally encounter my boss when returning from the tour, and he would ask the kids what their favorite part of the Capitol was, and invariably the kids would yell, "The train, the train!" And the senator would raise an eyebrow and say, "Yes...I think the train is probably my favorite thing here too."

Less delightfully, I gained a ridiculous amount of weight eating free snack industry treats at my desk all day.
posted by naoko at 7:14 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now I have the Simpsons' "I Want Candy" running through my head.
posted by Melismata at 7:33 PM on March 27, 2012


the Library of Congress, which is staffed by really, really awesome people

I imagine the Library of Congress maintaining a staff of superheroes to deal with "dangerous papers". I mean, really dangerous papers.
posted by SPrintF at 7:57 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't get the fascination. It's a horizontal elevator.
posted by schmod at 8:39 PM on March 27, 2012


Today I declared my college major as Political Science without much of an idea of what I wanted to do with it after school.

Now I know.
posted by Deflagro at 9:51 PM on March 27, 2012


darksasami : The inflection on "Ronald Regan" in that song is the blackest of ironies isn't it?
posted by Grimgrin at 10:02 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


louie, there is the Congressional Research Service, part of the Library of Congress, which is staffed by really, really awesome people.
Agreed! There should be more of them, and they should be better paid.
posted by louie at 6:45 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


So like do the Democrats have a granola desk that is funded through the work of a free range anarcho-syndicalist commune.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 7:13 AM on March 28, 2012


They have all been seated at the Senate's candy desk throughout their careers.

Yeah, shouldn't this really be the Republican candy desk? Seeing as how it's always staffed by a Republican regardless of other factors?
posted by JHarris at 8:35 AM on March 28, 2012


Don't make this partisan, JHarris.
posted by maryr at 11:55 AM on March 28, 2012


But it turns out there's a Democratic candy desk too! Should we call them the Majority and Minority candy desks? Can't the two sides agree long enough in order to create a single candy desk, or would that give one side or the other too much power? Too much CANDY POWER?
posted by JHarris at 12:09 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


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