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Gift Shop Reaps Campaign Rewards

All Congressional campaigns have many people to thank: donors, supporters and more donors. And in order to obtain the necessary thank-you gifts, many campaigns turn to a source close to home: the House Gift Shop.

According to Federal Election Commission reports, many campaigns racked up several thousand dollars’ worth of purchases at the gift shop in the Longworth House Office Building throughout the course of the 2008 campaign cycle. Even though some campaigns totaled as much as $21,000 in spending, most of the purchases were small items. In fact, one of the most popular items turned out to be the $10 official Congressional Christmas ornament.

Jeff Ventura, spokesman for the Chief Administrative Officer, said the Christmas ornament is “absolutely a popular seller.— Ventura said 15,000 copies of the 2008 ornament were ordered, and 14,558 have been sold to date. Ventura noted that it is impossible to know for sure who purchased the ornaments.

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.) was an enthusiastic ornament buyer, according to his office. Press Secretary Brad Howard notes that Ross’ campaign bought 500 of the ornaments last year.

Other popular items — all falling within FEC spending guidelines — include cookbooks, Congressional letter openers and the famed Space Pens that have the ability to write upside down.

These are perfect thank-you gifts for donors, according to Emily Emmett, the spokeswoman for Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.). The items are “small tokens of appreciation to our supporters who give their time and money,— she said. “At home, it really is unique to get these gifts.—

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who dropped just more than $6,000 at the gift shop during the 2008 campaign cycle, spent the money in a similar fashion.

“The Congressman’s campaign purchased gifts for some of Rep. Aderholt’s campaign supporters and volunteers from the House of Representatives Gift Shop; gifts that could only be purchased at a Congressional gift shop, such as special Congressional Holiday ornaments, Congressional glassware and other Congressional merchandise,— Aderholt communications director Darrell Jordan wrote in an e-mail.

Another popular use of items from the gift shop was for prizes in various charity tournaments.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) spent almost $1,500 on prizes for a bowling tournament. Other legislators held golf tournaments and gave out prizes such as wine glasses and cookbooks.

Some money spent by Members at the gift shop goes to charity fundraising in their home districts.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) — who spent nearly $21,000 at the gift shop in 2007-08 — donated some of the purchased goods to charities in his home district.

“Very worthy charities in East Texas are constantly seeking to have our campaign contribute items for their fundraising silent auctions, and I believe in supporting our deserving charities as much as possible,— Gohmert said in an e-mail.

Gohmert said he also spent some of the money on gifts for those who help raise funds by holding fundraising events. He explained that sometimes money is better spent thanking people than buying advertising.

“These days, it takes tremendous amounts of campaign contributions to buy much advertising on television,— he said in the same e-mail. “Yet the same money does buy significant numbers of items that do far more effective advertising all over the twelve counties in our district.—

Alexander Comisar and Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.

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