The Senate’s Sweetest Secret

A U.S. senator can pull some pretty long hours on the floor initiating, passing, and enacting the laws that govern our nation, but the lawmakers have a secret that C-SPAN’s live broadcasts don’t reveal. In the farthest back row of the Senate Chamber, near an entrance for easy access, the Senate Candy Desk opens to reveal a drawer full of sweet treats for any legislator seeking a mid-session sugar rush.

The longstanding tradition of keeping a candy stash for snacking Senators began in 1965 with the start of California Senator George Murphy’s term. Though Murphy originally kept candy in his desk for his own benefit, after moving to a new desk in a more highly trafficked area of the Chamber, he opened up his stores to his colleagues. Murphy only stayed in office for a single term, and after his departure, the Senators banded together in one of the few genuinely bipartisan actions in American history to keep the sugar flowing. For the next 12 years, the three successors to the honor and privilege of presiding over the candy drawer stocked only hard candy—but fortunately, sweeter times lay ahead.

Over the succeeding years, the Senate’s secret remained under foil and cellophane wraps, until Slade Gorton(R-WA) outed the collective Congressional sweet tooth in 1985 by announcing to the press his occupancy of the desk, and his intention to “carry on the rich traditions started by Murphy.” We can assume he relished and excelled at the job, since he relinquished the desk to Arizona Senator John McCain for a mere two years before returning for a second tenure and restocking the drawer with “ample quantities” of candies proudly made in the state of Washington.

Current desk-holder Mark Kirk (R-IL) has a theory as to why the candy desk tradition continues to live on, a bipartisan gesture of goodwill even amid contentious two-party debates: “Senators, being older, can get kind of grumpy in the afternoon,” and naturally these elder statesmen of Congress could use a pick-me-up. They’re lucky to have Kirk filling the role of candyman; tradition dictates the desk should contain treats manufactured in the senator’s home state, and Kirk’s Illinois constituents include the Jelly Belly Candy Company, Wrigley’s, and Tootsie Roll Industries.

Worried about taxpayer funds going to keep our senators flush with chocolate? You’ll be pleased to know that the contents of the candy drawer are all donations coordinated by the National Confectioners Association and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, who sent about 100 pounds of Hershey’s candy every three months to Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum during his tenure at the candy desk. How’s that for sweetening the pot?

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