Special interests shower Congress with wine, steak

December 24, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Even before Christmas, it looked like Santa came to town on Capitol Hill.

There were chocolates for lawmakers.

And bottles of wine for chiefs of staffs.

There were canned hams and oranges and tender steaks.

Delivered with calendars and walnuts and pies home-baked.

For weeks, the gifts arrived with messages of good cheer.

And yet, many proclaimed it a modest year.

"Things are more austere now than they were in the 1980s," said Joel Kassiday, administrative assistant to Sen. Hank Brown, R-Colo. His staff's favorite gift was a big box of Enstrom's candy, a popular Colorado confection.

"It's enough to put you into a sugar coma," said Mr. Kassiday. "People know we get homesick for it."

Thus, the ritual of political gift-giving was honored for another holiday season in Washington, with parcels arriving by the hundreds from lobby firms, businesses, unions and special-interest groups.

These organizations will spend much of the year ahead prodding Congress to fulfill their legislative wish lists.

But they say their December gifts are expressing simple gratitude -- no favor-seeking involved.

"It's a friendly gesture at holiday time saying, 'Thank you for your help in the past year and we look forward to working with you next year,' " says Ann O'Leary, of the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, which sent out $5 fruit pies to its favorite legislators and staff members.

The American Meat Institute gave with considerably more gusto, sending boxes of Omaha beef tenderloin steak to selected lawmakers, such as Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla.

Senator Graham's staff donated the steak to a homeless shelter, said Kim Roberts, a press secretary.

Under present rules, members of Congress may accept gifts of up to $250 and they do not have to disclose the item or the giver.

At Senate and House offices this week, no one acknowledged any large gift other than the Omaha steaks.

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