Published February 23, 2011
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was apparently prank-called by a blogger posing as one of the billionaire Koch brothers targeted by liberal groups for their contributions to Republican politicians.
The blogger, assuming the identity of prominent libertarian financier David Koch, claims to have had a lengthy conversation with Walker about the union protests sweeping the state capital.
Based on the audio and transcript of the conversation, it appears the individual posing as Koch repeatedly tried to bait Walker into saying something inappropriate about the unions and the "liberal" media.
Walker's office released a statement confirming the governor's voice and saying it shows he stayed professional.
"The governor takes many calls everyday," spokesman Cullen Werwie said in the statement. "Throughout this call the governor maintained his appreciation for and commitment to civil discourse. He continued to say that the budget repair bill is about the budget. The phone call shows that the governor says the same thing in private as he does in public and the lengths that others will go to disrupt the civil debate Wisconsin is having."
An editor with the online news site BuffaloBeast.com says he made the call, under Koch's identity, to Walker's office around lunchtime. The editor claimed Walker's chief of staff said he was "expecting my call" and set up the conversation with the governor.
The Koch impostor set several traps for Walker. At one point, he referred to the "Democratic bastards" in the Senate who left Madison to block a vote on Walker's proposal to cut union benefits and rights. At another point, the impostor said the unions were "probably putting hobos in suits" to protest. At another point, he said, "Once you crush these bastards I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time."
Walker responded: "All right, that would be outstanding."
In the conversation, Walker spent most the conversation describing the steps being taken to lure Democrats back to Madison, like bringing up bills Democrats care about in their absence. The man also expressed concern about the possibility of unions "paying" to put up the absentee senators in hotels.
At one point, the impostor said, "bring a baseball bat."
"I have one in my office," was the response. After a suggestion by the BuffaloBeast.com editor about "planting some troublemakers" in the crowd, Walker said "we thought about that" but decided against it.
Democrats ripped Walker's comments on the call on the Assembly floor Wednesday morning, saying the comments had nothing to do with his assertion that legislation stripping public employees' collective bargaining rights is needed to help solve a looming budget deficit.
"That's why we must fight it! That is why people must come to the Capitol and fight this!" Rep. Jon Richards of Milwaukee yelled as thousands of protesters inside the rotunda roared in approval. "This isn't about balancing the budget, this is about a political war."
The Koch brothers own Koch Industries, Inc., which is the largest privately-owned company in America and has significant operations in Wisconsin. Its political action committee gave $43,000 to Walker's campaign, and donated heavily to the Republican Governors' Association, which funded ads attacking Walker's opponent in last year's election.
The Kochs also give millions to support Americans For Prosperity, which launched a $320,000 television ad campaign in favor of Walker's legislation on Wednesday and already has a website, standwithwalker.com, where more than 60,000 have signed a petition supporting his plan.
David Donnelly, national campaigns director for Public Campaign Action Fund, said his group is consulting with lawyers to see if Walker violated any Wisconsin state campaign finance laws.
"In a call with who he thought to be billionaire political donor David Koch, Gov. Walker may have broken campaign finance and ethics laws," Donnelly said. "If he did, he should resign."
On the call, Walker talks about speaking with Democratic Sen. Tim Cullen, one of the Democrats hiding in Illinois to stop the bill, and telling Cullen he would not budge. He describes Cullen as "pretty reasonable but he's not one of us."
Cullen called the call an "astounding confirmation of what we've been saying for a couple weeks now."
"This bill is about the money," he told The Associated Press. "This bill is about destroying public employee unions."
Cullen said he felt the call "displays a level of partisanship and pettiness on the side of the governor I don't think is going to sit well with the public."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.