Tucked away on Seattle's Portage Bay, a sleek, 85-foot speedboat sat idle for years - save for an annual jaunt to maintain its engine.
The Navy paid $4.5 million to build the boat. But months before the hull ever touched water, the Navy gave the boat to the University of Washington. The school never found a use for it, either.
Why would the Navy waste taxpayer dollars on a boat that nobody wanted?
Blame it on Sen. Patty Murray and Congressmen Norm Dicks and Brian Baird. All three exercised their political muscle to slip language into a 2002 spending bill to force the Navy to buy the boat from Edmonds shipbuilder Guardian Marine International.
Year after year, the Washington lawmakers did favors for the tiny company, inserting four "earmarks" into different bills to force the Navy and Coast Guard to buy boats they didn't ask for - $17.65 million in all. None of the boats was used as Congress intended.
The congressional trio say they were helping Guardian Marine because it had a great product. But each has also received generous campaign donations from the company's three executives, its sole employees: $14,277 to Baird, $15,000 to Murray, and $16,750 to Dicks.
This nexus, between Bush Dogs and corrupt practices, just keeps popping up. I've spoken with a number of savvy local political figures, activists and insiders, and by most accounts, Brian Baird's a terrifically smart and cynical Congressman. Whether it was voting for the Bankruptcy Bill, acting badly on Terry Schiavo, or changing his mind on the surge to pull in right-wing support, he's been able to hew a relatively conservative line on some key issues because of memories of Republican Linda Smith, the crazy evangelical he beat in 1998. Baird's upset a good number of local activists with his bad Iraq stance, and rumor has it that he reduced one longtime supporter to tears. He's also upset environmentalists on his logging work, and the distict is shifting along with the country to a more strident progressive and antiwar stance.
With this earmarked useless boat done in return for political purposes, Baird has lost even more goodwill and opened up a clear spot for a primary challenger in 2008 or 2010.