It looked like a story - maybe even a scandal, by Utah standards - when the Deseret News saw a messenger delivering a gift-wrapped bottle of fine champagne to the office of Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah.
Garn - like all members of Utah's delegation - is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a non-drinker.The Deseret News moved in for a closer look. Alas, the messenger was simply going down a list of all senators on the Appropriations Committee and deliveringa bottle to each - all from a lobbyist sending greetings at the beginning of a new congressional session.
So no scandal about Garn and drinking. But talking to his office and other members of Utah's delegation did reveal that some not-so-bright lobbyists are prowling Capitol Hill.
They don't do their homework - don't realize that the Utah congressmen are Mormons and don't drink. But Utah congressmen generally do find uses for the high-spirited gifts anyway.
By the way, such gifts are perfectly legal. Lobbyists may give up to $100 worth of gifts to congressmen a year and do not have to disclose on reporting forms any gifts valued at less than $35.
Mary Jane Collipriest, assistant press secretary to Garn, said he received "about five fifths of liquor" this year - and receives about that much every year.
"He usually gives them away to some of his colleagues who drink," she said. "That, or he gives instructions to give it to service personnel or others who have been helpful to the office."
Re-giving gift alcohol to service employees once helped Rep. Jim Hansen receive a prompt and smooth move of office furniture.
His press secretary, Kathleene Gallegos, said, "Several years ago at Christmas, we received a case of beer from Anheuser-Busch - all members of Congress did. It was just kind of put in a corner and forgotten.
"But a few years later, we were moving to a new office. Jim gave the beer to the movers, who really appreciated it. They were more than helpful in doing whatever we needed."
She said she doesn't remember Hansen receiving any alcohol this year, though. "The first year Jim was on the Armed Service Committee, a lot of lobbyists sent over liquor. The word has apparently gotten out that he doesn't drink."
Gallegos didn't mind when Hansen did receive the liquor because it was often given to her. She is not a member of the LDS Church and does drink.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also receives five or so bottles of wine and liquor each year, according to his press secretary, Paul Smith.
Lobbyists doing that may not be scoring many points with Hatch, who is such an avid non-drinker that he will not even serve alcohol at official receptions.
For example, at a reception he staged to honor former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammed Ali at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans last year, Hatch offered only non-alcoholic imitations of wines. The bartender was obviously tired of explaining that, and repeated in a monotone, "It's just fruit juice, really. It's just juice."
Smith said Hatch also "gives the wine he receives to other senators who he knows drink, such as Ted Kennedy and others."
He noted that Hatch also receives numerous fruit baskets each year - much more than he could ever use. So he delivers most of them to people on his LDS Church home teaching route and to more needy members of his church congregation.
Rep. Howard Nielson, according to his administrative assistant, Reid Ivins, also receives five or so bottles of wine a year.
"He usually just takes it down the hall to one of his colleagues who drink and says, `Here's a bottle of wine that someone left, would you like it?' " Ivins said.
Ivins admits he was given one bottle of the wine once. "My wife used it for cooking," which removes the alcohol.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, received only one bottle of wine this year, as far as his press secretary, Art Kingdom, can recall.
Kingdom said word has either gotten out that Owens is a non-drinker or lobbyists have quit giving as much liquor.
"Wayne said in his first term back in 1975 that Congress was literally awash in free booze. He said compared to then, the place is dry now," Kingdom said.