Wisconsin Gov. Walker falls for fake phone call

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 23, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Everyone knows that money buys political access.

But in Wisconsin, apparently all you have to do to get the governor on the horn is just pretend to be a super-rich contributor — who also happens to be aiding his fight against unions — and he'll be happy to take your call.

And bend your ear for 20 minutes, too.

That's what Republican Gov. Scott Walker did Wednesday when he thought that Kansas billionaire industrialist David Koch was on the line to talk about Walker's fight to wring budget concessions from the state's public employees.

A key trigger for more than a week of protests has been Walker's insistence that the unions, which have agreed to other concessions, throw in the towel on their right to collective bargaining.

It's made him an instant folk hero to the right and villain on the left.

But it wasn't Koch on the phone. It was actually writer Ian Murphy, of a liberal online news site, pretending to be Koch. But that didn't stop Walker from explaining to "Koch" how his anti-union battle needed to spread to Ohio, Michigan, Florida and other states.

"You're the first domino," Murphy-as-Koch said.

"Yep, this is our moment," Walker replied.

A spokesman for Koch Industries didn't return calls seeking comment.

David Koch and his brother, Charles, run Koch Industries, a conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan. They're a major force behind the tea party movement and donate money to conservative causes and candidates, including Walker's own election last fall.

The online news site, buffalobeast.com, posted the conversation and it soon went viral. The site subsequently went offline, possibly due to the crush of people trying to fathom how someone was able to so easily dupe the governor and his staff.

"The governor takes many calls every day," Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said in a statement.

At a news conference, Walker said, "The things I said are the things I've said publicly all the time."

In their conversation, Walker told his caller about possible strategies under discussion to lure Democratic lawmakers back to Madison. They fled to Illinois last week to thwart Republican efforts to gain a quorum and vote on Walker's plans, which would easily pass because his party holds the majority.

One of the ideas Walker told the fake David Koch was to force the Democrats in exile to return to Wisconsin to get their paychecks, which are otherwise directly deposited in their bank accounts.

Besides aiding Walker's election, conservative business groups tied to the Kochs have paid for $320,000 in ads pushing his budget legislation. The Kochs also have business interests in Wisconsin and recently set up a lobbying office in the capital.

Charles Marsh, who teaches journalism ethics at the University of Kansas, said that the website's tactic "certainly doesn't fall into any time-tested concept of what a true journalist is."

But Marsh said, "I acknowledge my own hypocrisy. I think it's disgraceful and shameful. I would fire any reporter who did that. But I can't wait to read what the governor said."

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

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Wisconsin Democrats boycott vote on anti-union budget plan

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