The Christmas spirit thrives throughout the year in Washington's power circles. Lobbyists and special interest groups come to Capitol Hill bearing gifts, knowing that it is better to give if one wants to receive.
There are free trips, tickets to sporting events, golf clubs, pretentious baubles, food and lodging. And this time of year, members of Congress are making their lists and checking them twice because, when the year is over, they must report their haul to the federal government.There are just a few rules to remember when showering gifts on your elected representative. He or she can't accept anything worth more than $100 from a foreign national or from anyone who has business directly before Congress. So timing and price are critical.
Our associates Scott Sleek and Paul Parkinson checked the 1989 gift list to find out what one buys for the member of Congress who has everything. Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, received a $1,500 Steuben crystal eagle from the Private Sector Council in Washington, and Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md., got a necklace and bracelet worth $757 from the AFL-CIO Baltimore Port Council.
Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., raked in the knickknacks, each valued at less than $100 - a lamp stand from the president of Malawi, a director's chair from Universal Studios, a Sony Watchman TV from the Association of Independent TV Stations, and food items from RJR Nabisco Co.
Liquor and perfume are first-class gifts. Sen Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., received six bottles of imported Scotch valued at $30 each from a constituent in Bolton, Conn. Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., received a bottle of Giorgio perfume, $175 an ounce.
Home furnishings are always a tasteful gift. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., got a carpet worth $2,777, a $200 rocking chair and a $100 art print from friendly constituents last year.
Nunn's friends also helped him look better on the golf course, presenting him with a set of clubs worth $1,870, golf balls valued at $180 and golf shirts and towels worth $150. Golf gifts are reliable standbys when a constituent doesn't know what else to give. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., received more than $1,100 in golf clothes and accessories when he participated in several golf tournaments including the Kemper Open and the Bob Hope Classic. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill, got more than $1,000 worth of clothes and accessories for his golf tournament appearances. When Sen. Daniel Coats, R-Ind., showed up for the Kemper Open, he was given Waterford goblets, a jacket, shirt and golf shoes.
Other lawmakers got great seats at the ballpark. Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., received baseball passes for both the American and National leagues. The Washington Redskins gave Sen. John Warner, R-Va., four season tickets to sit in the director's box. Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, got two season passes worth $1,240 to ski at Park City, Utah, the home of the U.S. ski team.
Members of Congress must be meticulous about recording their gifts so the taxpayers can see who is stroking whom. It's too bad there is no law requiring the givers to submit a list of what special favors they got from their friends in Congress.