"Big deals over immigration reform or government spending may not be getting made on Capitol Hill, but political maneuvering can yield a free pack of Skittles for a staffer with a sugar craving.
It just might cost a bag of Fritos.
Home-state snacks are a mainstay in congressional office lobbies, alongside district maps, hometown magazines and displays of local tchotchkes. Walk into Sen. Rand Paul’s office and you’ll find Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts and Nutri-Grain bars in a basket next to the Kentucky almanac. Down the hall, Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson serves peanuts and Coca-Cola. Head upstairs to New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office for Chobani yogurt.
But the treats not only give visiting constituents a taste of home, they also fuel black-market snack trading among House and Senate staffers.
Beyond the official displays of food politicking — like when John Boehner sent Nancy Pelosi Cincinnati’s famous Graeter’s Gelato for her birthday — the little-known snack trade cuts across state, district and party lines.
Dozens of junior staff who spoke with POLITICO described an elaborate barter system based on local products. Pepsi is swapped for M&M’s, and Coca-Cola for Craisins. Unpaid interns are rewarded with treats for fetching lawmaker signatures. Sharing a cellphone charger with another office might net a bag of chips or candy. The most dedicated snackers have compiled comprehensive lists of who has what — a Capitol Hill snack bible of sorts.
Food and beverage companies, or farm cooperatives, donate most of the snacks on the Hill, but some offices do purchase their own reserves. The donations are kosher under ethics rules as long as the products are from the lawmaker’s state and are primarily for “promotional purposes,” as well as available to office visitors and of minimal value to the recipient. Staffers aren’t supposed to directly ask suppliers for their snacks to be replenished, but they tend to not run out for long.
The covert snack economy is not just a way for hungry staffers to seek out chocolate-covered macadamia nuts from Hawaii or Lay’s chips from Texas. It’s a system for aides, especially low on the totem pole, to make friends, forge informal alliances and, ultimately, help keep Capitol Hill functioning.
Between arranging constituent tours and taking calls, staff assistants use a massive email Listserv to arrange snack swaps.
“They’re the ones that work the trades,” explained Adam Russell, a spokesman for Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.). Constituents visiting his office are offered walnuts, prunes and pistachios.
Dozens of offices serve treats from large conglomerates like PepsiCo, which has factories or distribution facilities in various lawmakers’ districts. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) serves PepsiCo products because there’s a bottling plant in Wichita, Kan. He’s personally a big fan of Snickers and Diet Pepsi, according to his staff.
Frito-Lay chips and Mars candy are the most common — and perhaps the most commonly traded — snacks on the Hill. Both manufacturers have operations in several states.
Home-state snacks transcend party affiliation. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democrat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz may not find much common ground, but they agree Tropicana orange juice is a delicious treat for guests.
And orange juice, it turns out, is a hot commodity on the Hill, trading at times for as many as five bags of Lay’s chips.
In an Arkansas-shaped basket, Republican Sen. John Boozman’s office serves a variety of Frito-Lay snacks, Little Debbie snack cakes and crisp rice treats made by Riceland, a farmers co-op. In Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor’s office, you’ll find the same snacks, plus some Mountain Valley Water from Hot Springs, Ark.
Pop-Tarts may be “very popular” with Paul’s Kentucky visitors and staff popping by for a treat, but the Republican senator, known for being a bit of a health nut, does not eat them, according to his staff.
Not all products on the political circuit are well-known brands. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has Ola! all natural granola, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) has Cherry Mash, a chocolate cherry treat, and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) has Aplets & Cotlets, a square fruit puree and nut snack that isn’t all that tradable, according to multiple sources familiar with the delegation.
Some offices on Capitol Hill are not looped in on the snack trade and don’t have their own currency, and there are few staffers in either chamber who don’t know where the goods are and how to get them.
Those in the know target New York Sens. Chuck Schumer’s and Gillibrand’s offices, which actually have Greek yogurt-filled fridges. So do Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch.
Ask around about who has the best snacks, and you’ll run into some local food folklore. Someone on the Hill has San Pellegrino, aides say, but they’re not sure who, or they won’t divulge their source. POLITICO couldn’t find the sparkling beverage. Another office had heard Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) serves Kombucha, a fermented “foodie” drink, on tap. He doesn’t, according to his office. At least two staffers had heard tales of free Shiner Bock flowing from the Texas delegation, but the search for the beer from the Lone Star State came up dry."
Friday, September 12, 2014
There Is A Black Market On Capitol Hill
Yes, a black market in snacks. Pretty shocking. See Inside Capitol Hill's black market: Snacks by HELENA BOTTEMILLER EVICH of POLITICO. You can also check out POLITICO's guide for finding popular congressional office snacks. Excerpts: