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Wis. Governor Pranked By Caller Posing As Billionaire

A prank caller pretending to be conservative billionaire David Koch had a lengthy conversation with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker about his strategy to take on public employee unions, the governor's office confirmed Wednesday.

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

The caller was actually Ian Murphy, editor of the liberal Buffalo, N.Y., website the Beast. The governor and the impostor talked for at least 20 minutes, with Walker describing several potential ways to pressure Democrats to return to the statehouse and revealing that his supporters had considered secretly planting people in pro-union protest crowds to stir up trouble.

Ian Murphy, editor of the Beast, told The Huffington Post that he was "shocked" by how easy it was to get Walker on the phone merely by pretending to be a billionaire donor.

"Fifteen minutes in, I wanted to almost stop it and say, 'Are you so dumb? I'm not David Koch. How can your staff be so incompetent, and how could I get on the phone with you so easily?' " Murphy said. "But I didn't."

Democrats React

On the floor of the state Assembly, Democrats ripped Walker's comments, tying them to 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 that Walker took the call, which heightened suspicions that brothers David and Charles Koch are behind the effort 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 any benefits other than their base salaries. Unions could not collect mandatory dues and would face a vote of the members every year to stay in existence.

The plan has set off more than a week of demonstrations at the Capitol and prompted Democrats in the Senate to flee Wisconsin to block its passage.

Similar anti-union ideas are being pushed in some other states with Republican governors.

'This Is Our Moment'

During the prank call, the blogger said, "You're the first domino."

"Yep, this is our moment," the governor replied.

Walker compared his stand to that taken by President Ronald Reagan when he fired the nation's air-traffic controllers during a labor dispute in 1981.

"That was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and led to the fall of the Soviets," the governor said.

NPR's Peter Overby reports that the Koch brothers were key contributors to Walker's campaign for governor last year.

The brothers own Koch Industries Inc., which is one of the largest privately owned companies in America and has major operations in Wisconsin. The company and its employees gave a total of more than $1 million to Walker's campaign and to the Republican Governors Association, which funded ads attacking Walker's opponent in last year's election.

The Kochs also gave heavily to Americans for Prosperity, which launched a $320,000 TV ad campaign in favor of Walker's legislation Wednesday and has a website, www.standwithwalker.com, where more than 70,000 have signed a petition supporting his plan.

Playing Ball

During the call, Walker talked about speaking with state Sen. Tim Cullen, one of the Democrats hiding in Illinois to stop the bill. The governor said he told the senator he would not budge.

After Walker said he would be willing to meet with Democratic leaders, the impostor said he would bring "a baseball bat." 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 Walker said he'd thought about doing that but declined. The governor 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."

Walker responded: "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."

'An Astounding Confirmation'

Cullen, the Democratic senator, said the call was an "astounding confirmation of what we've been saying for a couple weeks now. This bill is about the money. 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."

Werwie, the governor's spokesman, 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."

NPR's Peter Overby contributed to this report, which includes material from The Associated Press.

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NPR Staff and Wires