Wis. Governor Receives Prank Phone Call

Political pranks are hardly new, but when a sitting governor in the midst of a high-stakes fight with organized labor is punked by someone pretending to be a major conservative contributor, people take notice. Someone pretending to be David Koch, a businessman who has contributed heavily to conservative candidates and causes, taped a lengthy conversation with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The recording became public Wednesday.

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Wisconsin's 10-day showdown between the Republican governor and public employee unions took a strange turn today. A liberal blogger in New York got Governor Scott Walker on the phone for a 20-minute conversation Tuesday night and then posted it online.

The strange part is that he told Walker he was a wealthy ally: billionaire David Koch. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: David Koch is a well-known name in conservative politics. He and his brother give millions of dollars to policy and political groups, and they own Koch Industries, where employees gave more than $1 million to help put Scott Walker in the governor's chair. That may explain Walker's candid talk about strategy and tactics.

Governor SCOTT WALKER (Republican, Wisconsin): We're actually hanging pretty tough.

OVERBY: Walker said that tomorrow, he'll start moving to lay off civil servants. It's a challenge to the public employee unions and the Democratic lawmakers supporting them.

Gov. WALKER: If they want to start sacrificing thousands of public workers who'll be laid off, sooner or later there's going to be pressure on these senators to come back.

OVERBY: All 14 of the state's Democratic senators left Wisconsin to thwart action on Walker's emergency budget bill, which, aside from fixing the state budget, would also cripple the public employee unions. Walker said he's checking out possible prosecutions.

Gov. WALKER: If the unions are paying the 14 senators, if they're paying for their food, their lodging, anything like that, we believe at a minimum it's an ethics code violation, and it may very well be a felony misconduct in office.

OVERBY: And when the fake David Koch suggested paying agitators to upset the demonstrations at the state capitol, Walker's objection seemed to be tactical, not substantive. Here's the blogger.

Mr. IAN MURPHY (Blogger): (As David Koch) We'll back you any way we can. But what we were thinking about the crowds was planting some troublemakers.

OVERBY: There was a long pause and some fumbling by Walker.

Gov. WALKER: We thought about that. The problem with - or my only gut reaction to that would be right now, the lawmakers I've talked to have just completely had it with them.

OVERBY: And Walker said poll numbers are moving away from the demonstrators.

Gov. WALKER: My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor's got to settle to avoid all these problems.

OVERBY: Democrats in the state assembly are still in Madison. Assemblyman Jon Richards of Milwaukee said this morning that the phone call exposed a hidden agenda.

State Assemblyman JON RICHARDS (Democrat, Wisconsin): This is not about balancing the budget. This is about a political war that our governor wants to start. And we will engage in that war if those are the terms of engagement.

OVERBY: At a press conference this afternoon, Walker brushed off the episode.

Gov. WALKER: I'm not going to allow one prank phone call to be a distraction from the reality is that we have a job to do here.

OVERBY: And today his budget push got a new boost on TV.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Unidentified Woman: Who decides Wisconsin's future: voters or government unions?

OVERBY: The advertiser, Americans for Prosperity, a national organization created with money from the Koch brothers.

Peter Overby, NPR News.

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