Whitehall departments were last week forced to reveal details of hospitality received by special advisers', as part of a new Government 'transparency' drive. It is the first time such records have been made publicly available.
A comprehensive analysis of the new data by PRWeek finds that special advisers across government enjoyed breakfast, lunch or dinner paid for by the Daily Mail on 11 occasions. This compares with just two lunches with journalists from The Independent, and no such meetings with journalists from the Daily Express.
Westminster insiders said the figures could reflect the coalition's ongoing battle to win over the paper seen as the voice of conservative Middle England. Yet there was also a strong sense the figures revealed more about the size of various expense accounts on Fleet Street.
One senior political journalist on a rival paper told PRWeek: 'It tells us they're understandably worried about the Mail, which is more Michael Howard Conservative than David Cameron Tory, with a dash of anti-politics – and that the paper has the most columnists with big expense accounts.'
Another senior lobby source said: 'The real story here is who's got the money to throw at contact building.'
The records released last week cover the period from 13 May to 31 July.
The second most lunched newspaper was The Guardian, with eight such meetings showing up in the records. Significantly, all of these meetings were with special advisers working for either David Cameron or Nick Clegg.
Specials advisers across Whitehall registered a further seven lunches with The Times and five with each of The Sun, Daily Mirror and The Daily Telegraph.
Overall, the BBC features more prominently than any other individual media outlet, having provided hospitality to special advisers on 22 occasions. But upon closer examination, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation gives the BBC a run for its money - the combined total of lunches and dinners provided to advisers by News Corproation outlets also stands at 22.
Alongside the data on special advisers, the government last week released details of hospitality provided to ministers.
MEALS WITH THE MAIL
Andy Coulson, No 10 - dinner
Gabby Bertin, No 10 - lunch and dinner
Sean Kemp, No 10 - lunch
Fiona Cunningham, Home Office - lunch
David Hass, MoJ - lunch
Phillipa Stroud, DWP - lunch and breakfast
Susie Squire, DWP - lunch and breakfast
Paul Stephenson, DfT - lunch
WHO KEY AIDES MET
- Andy Coulson (No 10) Lunch with The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Sky News, BBC, The Wall Street Journal and the Daily Mirror. Dinner with The Sun and the Daily Mail.
- Gabby Bertin (No 10) Lunch with News International, Sky News, the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday. Dinner with the Daily Mail.
- Jonny Oates (No 10) Three lunches with The Guardian. Lunch with The Times, The Economist, ITN, Sky News, The Sunday Times and the Daily Mirror.
Additional reporting by James Cowling.