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Prank Koch Call Changing the Battle for Public Opinion in Wisconsin

MADISON, WI (FDL) – I’ve explained the mechanics of the State Senate and Assembly votes, and the atmosphere inside the occupied Capitol. Now let’s turn to the politics, which have gotten very interesting over the past 24 hours.

The prank phone call to Gov. Scott Walker by a man pretending to be billionaire industrialist David Koch has become a real tipping point. I don’t know how the national media has reacted to it, but the state media was seriously aggressive in yesterday’s inexplicable press conference.

The first questioner asked Walker whether he could be trusted to negotiate in good faith, given he had discussed with “Koch” methods of tricking the Democrats into coming back to the Capitol building, and after he alluded to having considered bringing “troublemakers” into the crowds.

“For us I think it’s real simple. First I want to say I take phone calls all the time,” Walker said, before being interrupted by a reporter in the crowd who yelled, “Not mine!.” Walker continued: “I’ve talked to individual taxpayers across the state. As I said last night I’ve listened to people both pro and con in terms of the e-mails I’ve received. But bottom line, the things I’ve said privately are the same things I’ve said all along.”

Regarding the idea of planting agitators in the crowds, Walker said: “We’ve had all sorts of options brought to us by staff and lawmakers and people across the state, but as you heard we dismissed them.”

Regarding the idea of bringing the Democrats into the Capitol to talk, only to have the Republicans use their presence in the building to declare the Senate in session for the budget — as Walker said in the call, “I’m not negotiating”. Walker said in the presser: “I’m willing to talk, but ultimately I think it has to lead to a vote. I don’t think that’s a trick.”

This aggressive attitude can be seen in today’s local newspaper articles on the subject. My personal favorite, from the Journal-Sentinel, entitled “Walker devoted 20 minutes to Koch call. Why?”

When a prankster called pretending to be billionaire David Koch, Gov. Scott Walker took 20 minutes out of his packed schedule to provide an unguarded briefing on the political stand-off in Madison.

No wonder: Koch is one of the biggest financial backers of conservative causes in the country, including Walker’s campaign for governor.

David Koch (pronounced “coke”), the man impersonated in the phone call to Walker, and his brother Charles control Koch Industries Inc., a privately held company with estimated revenue of $100 billion a year.

Last year, Koch Industries’ political action committee contributed $43,000 to Walker, the largest donation the Republican candidate received from a corporate committee, and the group’s largest gift in Wisconsin.

The connections between the Kochs and Walker can no longer be denied, and local reporters are making the further connections to the financial interests that would benefit corporate interests in the budget repair bill, including the Kochs. Democrats are pouncing, with one calling for Walker’s resignation. Both Campaign Money Watch and Common Cause want investigations into Walker’s conduct. State bloggers – who have been amazing throughout this ordeal – set up a “Scott Walker hotline”, a toll-free number that people not named David Koch can call to express their opinions to Gov. Walker. You can call at 1-888-882-7921.

On top of this, the protests are spreading across the state. Local union leaders say that today will see the biggest protests outside of Madison in the state’s history, with dozens planned. I may get out to one or two today.

There’s a definite siege mentality around Governor Walker right now. He has turned the tide of public opinion all by himself. The endgame may not come for a while, but Walker is losing his hold over the situation. He may not crack, but his Republican allies, particularly in the Senate, may succumb to the pressure from state media and the public. There was a rumor floating around that a few Senate Republicans would block the budget repair bill in the next day or two, or at least announce their opposition to the bill in its current form. I’m not sure of the sourcing on that. But I can see how they’d want this to end – it’s become very debilitating for the GOP in the state.

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David Dayen

David Dayen