The phone rang in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s office and the caller identified himself as David Koch, the billionaire who has funded the Tea Party movement and whose business interests stand to benefit from the so-called “budget repair bill.”
Then the caller, actually a prankster pretending to be Koch, and the governor joked about the “vested interest” Koch Industries has in the bill.
The twenty-minute call, which the governor’s office has confirmed Walker participated in, raises questions about collaboration between the governor and benefactors of his 2010 campaign to enact legislation that would benefit those interests.
Those questions point to a more profound question: Has Walker violated Wisconsin’s strictest-in-the-nation ethics rules, which require elected officials to “maintain the faith and confidence of the people of the state” when it comes to their actions?
Here’s the critical exchange:
Koch caller: “Well, I tell you what, Scott: once you crush these bastards I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.”
Governor Walker: “All right, that would be outstanding. Thanks for all the support in helping us move the cause forward…“
Koch caller: “Absolutely. And, you know, we have a little bit of a vested interest as well. ”
“Well,” replies Walker, “that’s just it.”
When someone who Scott Walker thought was a major donor to national groups that aided Walker’s 2010 gubernatorial run—and that gave the Walker campaign $43,000 directly, via Koch Industries’ KochPAC—said he had a “vested interest” in a budget plan being pushed by the governor, Walker replied, “Well, that’s just it.”
The conversation is so stunning in its brazenness that the Center for Media and Democracy, which had already filed freedom-of-information requests for records of contacts between the governor and his aides and representatives of Koch industries, is stepping up those demands.
“One request is for the phone logs and the other is for their e-mails. We are looking for any contacts between Scott Walker and his staff and anyone with Koch Industries or the Kochs (brothers David and Charles),” says Lisa Graves, a former deputy assistant attorney general of the United States who now heads the Madison-based center. “We are interested as well in calls to and from the group Americans for Prosperity, with which Mr. Koch is closely tied.”
Says Graves: “We are interested in a number of things, especially contacts between the financial interests that helped elect Governor Walker and the governor and his staff. We are interested in whether the governor and his staff have maintained faith with the ethics requirements and responsibilities associated with their positions.”
The remarkable conversation between Walker and the Koch caller —actually Buffalo, New York, blogger Ian Murphy—was the talk of Wisconsin Wednesday morning, as lawyers rushed to review the tape and the governor’s office, perhaps even more remarkably, issued a press release saying: “The Governor takes many calls everyday. Throughout this call the Governor maintained his appreciation for and commitment to civil discourse. He continued to say that the budget repair bill is about the budget. 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.”