- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 23, 2011

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A prank caller pretending to be billionaire conservative businessman David Koch was able to have a lengthy conversation with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker about his strategy to cripple public employee unions, the governor’s office confirmed Wednesday.

On the call, Mr. Walker joked about bringing a baseball bat to a meeting with Democratic leaders, said it would “be outstanding” to be flown out to California by the pretend Mr. Koch for a good time after the battle is over, and said he expected the anti-union movement to spread across the country.

Audio was posted on the Buffalo Beast, a left-leaning website based in New York, and quickly spread across the Internet.

Democrats ripped Mr. Walker’s comments on the call on the Assembly floor Wednesday morning, saying they 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.”

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie confirmed Mr. Walker took the call, which will only heighten widespread suspicions that brothers David and Charles Koch are pulling strings in Wisconsin’s battle as part of a conservative agenda to limit the unions’ power.

The governor’s plan would take away the ability of state and local public employees to collectively bargain for working conditions, benefits or anything other than their base salaries. Unions could not collect mandatory dues and would face a vote of its members every year to stay in existence.

The plan has set off more than a week of demonstrations at the Capitol and prompted Wisconsin Senate Democrats to flee the state to block its passage. Similar ideas are being pushed in some other states with Republican governors.

The man pretending to be Mr. Koch said, “You’re the first domino.”

“Yep, this is our moment,” Mr. Walker said.

The 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 Mr. Walker’s campaign and donated heavily to the Republican Governors Association, which funded ads attacking Mr. Walker’s opponent in last year’s election.

The Koches also gave millions to support Americans for Prosperity, which launched a $320,000 television ad campaign in favor of Mr. Walker’s legislation on Wednesday and already has a website, standwithwalker.com, where more than 60,000 have signed a petition supporting his plan.

On the call, Mr. Walker talks about speaking with Sen. Tim Cullen, one of the Democrats hiding in Illinois to stop the bill, and telling Mr. Cullen he would not budge. After Mr. Walker said he would be willing to meet with Democratic leaders, the caller said he would bring “a baseball bat.” Mr. Walker laughed and responded that he had “a slugger with my name on it.”

The caller suggested he was thinking about “planting some troublemakers” among the protesters, and Mr. Walker said he had thought about doing that but declined. Mr. Walker said the protests eventually would die because the media would stop covering them.

At the end of the call, the prankster said: “I’ll tell you what, Scott. Once you crush these bastards, I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.”

“All right, that would be outstanding. Thanks for all the support and helping us move the cause forward. We appreciate it, and we’re doing the just and right thing for the right reasons. and it’s all about getting our freedoms back,” Mr. Walker said.

The caller: “Absolutely, and you know, we have a little bit of vested interest as well.” The caller than laughs.

“That’s just it. The bottom line is, we’re going to get the world movement here because it’s the right thing to do.”

Mr. Walker ended the call by saying, “Thanks a million.”

Mr. 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 said. “This bill is about destroying public employee unions.”

Mr. 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.”

Mr. Werwie said 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.”

Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed to this report.


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