Republican Sen. Craig Thomas has become ensnared in the congressional candy controversy of 2007, but a Wyoming chocolate company may help him find a sweet ending to the sticky mess.
For almost 40 years, U.S. senators with candy cravings have stopped by a particular desk on the Senate floor kept filled with sweets by its occupant. The "Candy Desk" has become so well known on Capitol Hill that the Senate Web site has a page detailing its history.
The senator using the desk traditionally stocked it with treats from his home state. For the past decade, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., has filled it with kisses from Hershey Co. and other goodies from Pennsylvania-based companies. A confectioners association organized the treat donations.
After Santorum lost his re-election bid in November, Republican officials who had noticed Thomas's habit of regularly visiting the candy stash told him the desk was open for the taking. Thomas has enough seniority that he could have moved closer to the front of the chamber, but he thought the back-row spot too sweet to pass up.
But then a national controversy began to unfold. The National Confectioners Association does not have any members based in Wyoming, so it will no longer be able to coordinate the candy flow.
In a front-page story Friday, the Wall Street Journal wondered how Thomas possibly would be able to stock the desk and keep senators in sweets despite the state's lack of candy giants.
At least one Wyoming chocolate company may come to the rescue. Huckleberry Mountain Candy Co., based in Jackson, may be interested in donating the treats, said co-owner Kay Yost.
"That sounds like fun, actually," Yost said. "We have this white-chocolate-covered popcorn It's addictive. I can just imagine all the senators gathered around the desk and saying, Do you have any more of that popcorn?' "
Hershey provided about 100 pounds of candy four times a year. Yost said that would be the equivalent of shipping about five cases of her products.
The small business has about 150 products and ships all over the country, she said. It makes huckleberry lollipops and gummy bears, chocolate "river rocks," mountain bark, "moose poop," truffles, fudge and various other goodies.
"We'd love to have our products there for people to eat," Yost said.
Yost had not been contacted by Thomas's office as of Friday afternoon.
The senator's staff has just begun looking into the matter, said Thomas spokesman Cameron Hardy. They would like to involve Wyoming candy makers, but other senators may want to contribute to the desk's stash as well, he said.
Before deciding how to proceed, Thomas will check with the Senate Ethics Committee, Hardy said. Senate rules prohibit accepting more than $100 worth of gifts from any one source in a calendar year.
But the rules also make an exception for donations of products from a senator's home state that are "intended primarily for promotional purposes" and are of "minimal value" to any individual who receives them.
Enough candy is left from the Santorum era that senators likely won't run short before they reach a solution, Hardy said.
"The senator said if we don't find something quickly on the candy side, he's willing to find some Wyoming beef jerky to put in there," Hardy said.
The opportunity to provide candy would give a boost to any state company able to make enough sweets, said Rachel Girt, spokeswoman for the Wyoming Business Council.
"This would be a great opportunity for a Wyoming company to market their goods," she said.
The council hands out Huckleberry Mountain chocolates and candy from Lovell-based Queen Bee Gardens at national trade shows and other marketing events, she said.
But with only four employees besides family members, Queen Bee Gardens is too small to donate large quantities to the Senate desk, said Bessie Zeller, who wrote the recipes for all the candy they make.
The company does sell 24 pounds of pralines every few months to Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and a little less than that to Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., for their office desks, she said.
The Senate Candy Desk has its origins with former Sen. George Murphy of California. In 1965, he started keeping candy in his desk to satisfy his own sugar cravings.
His colleagues began stopping by to help themselves. Within a few years, it became a well-known tradition and the Candy Desk was born. California candy makers began to supply the treats.
"Generally they look at 1968 as its beginning time," said Assistant Senate Historian Betty Koed.
The desk stands in the back row of the Republican side, on the aisle and next to the Senate's most heavily used entrance. Usually a junior member would have the desk because it's at the back, Koed noted. Murphy only served one term.
But Santorum kept the Candy Desk for 10 years despite gaining in seniority, so he could feature his home-state candy manufacturers.
Now Thomas has inherited the mantle of Senate sugar daddy.
Source: Helena Independent Record