Since 1968, one desk drawer in the United States Senate has always been stocked full of candy and sweets.
Traditionally, one senator who sits near a busy entrance is elected each year to fill his desk with candy and keep it full for the other members. This “sweet” tradition has only been public knowledge since the mid-1980s, before which it was kept a secret.
Food is typically forbidden inside the Senate chamber. However, unable to resist his urges, one Californian senator named George Murphy started to fill his desk with candy in the 1960s. His colleagues would often catch him sneaking a snack from his drawer, though, so he began to share his candy in exchange for their silence.
The senators who secretly shared the sweets began to call Murphy’s seat the “candy desk.” Soon after that, word spread around Capitol Hill, as everyone was keen on the idea of hiding snacks in one in the Senate chamber.
After he was defeated in the 1970 elections, Murphy’s six-year term ended and he left the Senate. Still, other Republican senators carried on the custom and continued to fill a desk with candy for the enjoyment of their colleagues. Thus, a tradition was born.
The task of keeping the practice alive passed from senator to senator, with Paul Fannin, Harrison Schmitt, Roger Jepsen, and Steve Symms all taking the job at some point. Symms was the first to break away from the traditional hard candy, filling the drawer with chocolates from his home state of Idaho. Over the years, many different spots around the chamber had the privilege of being the candy desk, as the role continued to change hands.
The operation was publicly unmasked in 1985 when Sen. Slade Gorton announced his presidency over the candy desk in a press release. Gorton revealed everything about the tradition, explaining how it began and listed his predecessors.
The candy desk is not tied to a particular location in the Senate chamber but to the individual member chosen to preside over it. Accordingly, the seat that the elected senator sits at becomes the next candy desk.
The current candy desk is occupied by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey from Pennsylvania. His seat is on the Republican side of the chamber, in the back row next to the eastern door, where most of the senators enter. Given its accessible position, that particular spot has been chosen many times to be the candy desk, as it has been every year since 1981.
After his successful first tenure, Toomey was recently re-elected keeper of the candy desk. He presided over the Senate’s guilty pleasure during the 114th Congress, and he will have the same responsibility for the 115th.
Senators traditionally fill the desk with candy from their home state. Toomey hails from Pennsylvania, which is famous for producing some of the country’s best sweets. This may have factored into the senators’ decision to elect Toomey, as the current desk is filled with tasty products from Hershey’s, Mars, Asher’s and Just Born.