Republican Gov. Scott Walker, believing he was speaking with a billionaire campaign contributor, said he "thought about" planting troublemakers among people protesting his bill to limit collective bargaining and discussed confidential strategies for pushing the bill through — all with a New York blogger who recorded the telephone call.
The governor also compared his drive to strip most collective bargaining rights public workers in Wisconsin to former President Ronald Reagan's winning his battle with air traffic controllers 30 years ago.
The 20-minute conversation was posted by the website the Buffalo Beast, which says the call took place Tuesday. Instead of David Koch, the co-owner of Koch Industries and key backer of the conservative Americans for Prosperity, Walker was speaking with Buffalo Beast editor Ian Murphy.
During the 20-minute phone call, the fake "Koch" repeatedly tried to bait Walker, asking if there was anything he could do to help — such as "planting some troublemakers" among the protesters.
Walker paused, then said, "The only problem with that ... we thought about that."
The governor added, "My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has got to settle to avoid all these problems."
Police have repeatedly praised the thousands of protesters — who have filled the state Capitol and Capitol Square for more than a week — for remaining peaceful.
At a news conference Wednesday, Walker said he takes telephone calls from many people and that during the call he said things he's said all along.
"The fact of the matter is, people have brought up all sorts of different options," he said. "And as you saw, if you've listened to the tape, we put that down."
The governor said he "would not let one prank be a distraction from the realities that we have a job to do here."
But Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said the call was "shocking and disappointing" proof that Walker's actions are aimed at busting unions and pleasing wealthy donors rather than balancing the budget.
"Wisconsin knows the score," Bell said. "This phone call proves what hundreds of thousands of working-class Wisconsinites have been saying all this last week."
During the call, the governor also talked about GOP plans for luring 14 Senate Democrats back from Illinois, where they've been since last Thursday to block the Senate from taking up the bill.
"Each day we're going to ratchet it up a little bit," Walker said of efforts to get the Democrats back on the floor.
For example, Walker mentioned plans to introduce bills about social issues "they care about" as well as a strategy initiated by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, to require senators to pick up their checks in the Senate chamber during a session.
Fitzgerald said Wednesday that he does not know the Koch brothers (pronounced "Coke") and knew nothing about the call. The senator added that he never considered placing "plants" or instigators to stir up trouble among the thousands of protesters.
Murphy also tried to bait Walker several times with references to "crushing" the unions. While Walker didn't rise to the bait, he didn't reject the comments. That's in contrast to his televised "fireside chat" Tuesday night, in which Walker said his bill "isn't aimed at state workers, and it certainly isn't a battle with unions."
In response to Murphy's question about what he could do to help, Walker said that in the long term "a lot of these guys are going to need a message out" to tell people their actions were good for the state, apparently referring to GOP lawmakers needing to stay in the good graces of voters.
In what was perhaps unfortunate timing, Americans for Prosperity announced Wednesday that it launched a $342,200 TV ad buy in Wisconsin urging citizens to "stand with Walker."
The Kochs were among the biggest contributors to Walker's campaign for governor, giving him $43,000 through their political action committee and giving $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which spent $3.4 million on advertising in support of Walker's bid.
Even so, the governor has never spoken with either of the Koch brothers, Walker Spokesman Cullen Werwie said.
During the call, Walker also praised former President Ronald Reagan. He spoke highly of Reagan's firing of air traffic controllers, calling it "the first crack in the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism, because from that point forward the Soviets and Communists knew that Ronald Reagan wasn't a pushover."
Toward the end of the call, the prankster tells Walker "Once you crush these bastards, I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time."
Walker replies on the recording: "All right, that would be outstanding."
State ethics laws say public officials "should not accept or retain transportation, lodging, meals, food or beverage ... furnished by a lobbyist or by a lobbyist's employer." Koch Industries has seven registered lobbyists in Wisconsin.
At the end of the call, Walker thanks "Koch" for his support, chats a bit and ends the call by saying, "Thanks a million. Bye now."
— State Journal reporter Dee J. Hall contributed to this report.