Is Chuck Grassley Making a Muffin out of a Molehill?
When I made fun of the Department of Justice for serving $16 muffins, I was unwittingly spreading an urban legend, or at best a deeply misleading factoid. It's important to set the record straight, especially because Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is demagoguing all over himself, demanding that the muffin-buyer be fired.
Kevin Drum of Mother Jones went back and checked the paper trail. He found that the snack of "$16 muffins" and "$10 brownies" was the hotel's way of itemizing the total cost of a catered snack for over 500 people.
For the cost of the muffins and brownies, the hotel threw in coffee service, iced tea service, and fresh fruit "for free," according to a report by DOJ's Inspector General, not to mention the other costs of serving a hotel snack such as linens, plates, cups, setup, and takedown.
The total cost of refreshments, per person, per day, at that conference was $14.74, just over the federal limit of $14.72. It sounds like someone gave the hotel a per capita budget and the hotel delivered a package that fit the budget.
Is DOJ spending too much on catered conferences? Maybe. They spent $490,000 on ten events over the course of two years.
Is hotel catering a ripoff? Definitely. This is what happens when the private sector has a monopoly. Hotels can charge an arm and a leg for coffee service because they don't allow outside refreshments.
Regardless, the $16 muffin is a myth.