WASHINGTON - In a historic first, Moose Poop filled the drawer of a U.S. Senate desk this session.
That tasty treat and other Western candies now satisfy senators' chocolate cravings courtesy of Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo. In a bittersweet tale, Thomas took on the mantle of Senate sugar daddy but found it came with a sticky mess.
Previous occupants of the famous "Candy Desk" where Thomas now sits had large confectionary companies from their home states supply the sugar to share with colleagues. But when he took over the seat this year, it sparked the congressional candy controversy of 2007.
The National Confectioners Association, which organized the delectable donations, had no members based in Wyoming. The Wall Street Journal wondered on its front page how Thomas would keep the desk filled despite Wyoming's lack of candy giants.
A solution seemed at hand when a slew of chocolatiers in the state heard about Thomas's new seat and offered to provide homemade treats. Wyomingites from around the state expressed interest in contributing.
But then Thomas ran into another snack snafu: Senate ethics rules.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., the delicious-desk denizen before Thomas, had gotten a waiver from the Ethics Committee to accept sweets worth more than usual gift limits. That allowed him for a decade to stock the desk with kisses from Hershey Co. and other goodies from Pennsylvania-based companies, organized by the confectioners association.
But Thomas, who sits on the ethics panel, wanted to follow its rules and decided not to seek an exception.
"We wanted all of the sugar high but none of the cavities," said Thomas spokesman Cameron Hardy.
That meant Thomas can accept no goodies worth more than $50 at a time. And each confectioner could donate at most $100 of bonbons per year.
So Thomas decided to fill the desk with Wyoming treats, but to pay for them out of his campaign budget.
Yet one final delicacy dilemma arose: All the candy had to be individually wrapped, for greater ease of use and for sanitary reasons. Senators wanted a treat, not a trick.
The desk currently features Snowballs, which are like malted milk balls but are coated in yogurt and come from Flower Garden and Gifts in Cheyenne. The desk also holds candy-coated popcorn from Huckleberry Mountain in Jackson. Slated to go in next? Chocolate-covered popcorn - in separately wrapped bundles, of course.
During Santorum's reign, Hershey provided about 100 pounds of candy four times a year. After he 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.
The Wyomingites who expressed interest in contributing include LeAnn Baker, executive director of Washakie Development Association in Worland; Mary Kuschel of Flower Garden and Gifts in Cheyenne; Sidney Pitt of Queen Bee Gardens in Lovell; Huckleberry Mountain Chocolate Co. in Jackson; Star Valley Chocolates of Afton; and Mary Cobb of Energy Laboratories in Casper.
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 around 1968. California candy makers began to supply the treats.
The desk stands in the back row of the Republican side, on the aisle and next to the Senate's most heavily used entrance.