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Billionaire Right-Wing Koch Brothers Fund Wisconsin Governor Campaign and Anti-Union Push

StoryFebruary 24, 2011
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In Madison, Wisconsin, record numbers of protesters have entered the 11th day of their fight to preserve union rights and collective bargaining for public employees, inspiring similar protests in the states of Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. The protests have also helped expose the close ties between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who helped bankroll the Tea Party movement. On Wednesday, blogger Ian Murphy revealed he had impersonated David Koch in a recorded phone conversation with an unsuspecting Walker. We play highlights of the recording and discuss the Koch brothers’ influence in Wisconsin with Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In Madison, Wisconsin, record numbers of protesters continue their fight to preserve union rights and collective bargaining for public employees, as their struggle enters its 11th day. The protests have made national news, inspired similar protests in the states of Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. The protests have also helped expose the close ties between Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who helped bankroll the Tea Party movement.

JUAN GONZALEZ: On Wednesday, a blogger named Ian Murphy revealed that he had impersonated David Koch in a recorded phone conversation with an unsuspecting Governor Walker. Murphy said he pulled the prank after learning that Walker was refusing to return phone calls from Democratic senators.

During the 20-minute conversation, Walker admitted that he had considered disrupting opposition to his anti-union bill by planting “troublemakers” among the protesters. This clip begins with Ian Murphy impersonating David Koch.

IAN MURPHY: [as David Koch] We’ll back you any way we can. But what we were thinking about the crowds was planting some troublemakers.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: You know, well, the only problem with — because we thought about that. The problem with — or my only gut reaction to that would be right now the lawmakers I’ve talked to have just completely had it with them. The public is not really fond of this.

AMY GOODMAN: During another point in the phone call, Governor Walker appears to urge Koch — the man he thinks is Koch — to provide outside support to Republican lawmakers who are backing the controversial bill.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: After this, the coming days and weeks and months ahead, particularly in some of these more swing areas, a lot of these guys are going to need — they don’t initially need ads for them, but they’re going to need a message out reinforcing why this was a good thing to do for the economy and good thing to do for the state. So, the extent that that message is out over and over again, that’s obviously a good thing.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The Public Campaign Action Fund says Governor Walker may have violated a law that forbids politicians from coordinating with political donors. The prank phone call ended with the David Koch impersonator inviting Governor Walker to visit him in California.

IAN MURPHY: [as David Koch] Well, I’ll you what, Scott. Once you crush these bastards, I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Alright, that would be outstanding. Thanks for all the support and helping us move the cause forward, and we appreciate it. We’re doing it, the just and right thing, for the right reasons. And it’s all about getting our freedom back.

IAN MURPHY: [as David Koch] Absolutely. And, you know, we have a little bit of vested interest, as well.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Well, that’s just it. The bottom line is we’re going to get the world moving here, because it’s the right thing to do.

IAN MURPHY: [as David Koch] Alright, then.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Thanks a million.

IAN MURPHY: [as David Koch] Bye bye.


AMY GOODMAN: That was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaking earlier this week with a man he thought was Republican funder, the billionaire Republican funder David Koch, one of his supporters, but in fact it was an impersonator. The Governor’s office has confirmed the authenticity of the recording but has denied any wrongdoing. Walker’s spokesperson, Cullen Werwie, said, quote, “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.”

Well, to speak more about the Koch brothers and their influence in Wisconsin, we’re joined now from Madison by Lisa Graves, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. She’s in the Capitol Dome, where thousands of people have been camping out for almost two weeks, so you can hear the noise behind her. And it’s exactly where Democracy Now! will be tomorrow. We’ll be broadcasting from the Capitol Dome on Friday in Madison. Sharif Abdel Kouddous and I will be speaking tonight at the Orpheum Theatre in Madison, as well, in a fundraiser for the community radio station there, WORT.

Lisa, an office has been opened, a Koch Brothers office, in Madison. Talk about what that is, why people are protesting, and who the Koch brothers are.

LISA GRAVES: Sure, Amy. Thank you so much for having me. And we’re looking forward to seeing you here tonight.

We learned this week that the Koch Industries, Mr. Koch’s company, opened a lobby shop here right across from the Capitol. He and his team basically leased the place right before Governor Walker was elected and opened it the week of his inauguration. So, it looks like they’re planning on doing some lobbying here in the state of Wisconsin.

And I suppose that’s not unexpected, because Mr. Koch wrote a million-dollar check to the Republican Governors Association, which was used, combined with other money, to run $5 million worth of ads in the state to put Scott Walker in office. And Koch Industries, through its PAC, donated $43,000 to Mr. Walker’s campaign. And that was the second most of any PAC in the state of Wisconsin to donate to Scott Walker. So Scott Walker has a strong relationship, in essence, to this funder through the groups that he’s funded. And in fact, Americans for Prosperity, which is one the groups that Mr. Koch has funded and that he chairs, is running ads now to support Scott Walker, and they actually ran ads to help get him into office. And so, this is a situation in which a billionaire is exerting extraordinary influence, far more influence than tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents who have come out to protest his outrageous effort to destroy the unions here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And talk some about the family itself, the history of the Koch brothers and their father, as well.

LISA GRAVES: Sure. So, David Koch is one of those apples that doesn’t fall far from the tree. His father was one of the co-founders of the radical group, the John Birch Society. That’s a group that was founded in the 1950s basically to attack the idea that there was a growing communist movement in this country, to oppose civil rights laws. And David Koch himself ran on the Libertarian ticket for president in 1980 to the far right of Ronald Reagan. The campaign platform that he had at that time opposed Social Security. It opposed minimum wage. It was radical in all sorts of ways, and it was farther to the right than even Ronald Reagan.

After he lost that race, he has spent the last 30 years investing tremendously in creating a whole series of groups, including Americans for Prosperity and others, to basically push forward his agenda. That agenda is an anti-union agenda. It’s an anti-workers’ rights agenda. It’s an anti-Social Security safety net agenda. It’s a radical agenda, and it has been embraced by the new governor of Wisconsin without any disclosure to the Wisconsin people that that was his real agenda.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, interestingly, in that conversation that the Governor had with the person he suspected was one of the Koch brothers, he specifically raised Ronald Reagan and the role that he played with the firing of the traffic controllers. I want to play that part of the prank call where Governor Walker talks about the traffic controllers’ strike.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: And I stood up, and I pulled out a picture of Ronald Reagan. And I said, “You know, this may seem a little melodramatic, but 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan,” whose hundredth birthday we just celebrated the day before, “had one of the most defining moments of his political career, not just his presidency, when he fired the air traffic controllers.” And I said, “To me, that moment was more important than just for labor relations or even the federal budget. That was the first crack in the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism, because from that point forward, the Soviets and the Communists knew that Ronald Reagan wasn’t a pushover.” And I said, “This may not have as broad of world implications, but in Wisconsin’s history” — little did I know how big it would be nationally — Wisconsin’s history, I said, “This is our moment. This is our time to change the course of history. And this is why it’s so important that they were all there.”

AMY GOODMAN: Lisa Graves, respond to what Scott Walker is saying and respond to who, again, David Koch is, with your report, “Scott Walker Runs on Koch Money.”

LISA GRAVES: Sure. Well, three things. First, what Scott Walker neglects to mention is that Ronald Reagan actually called for sanctions against Poland when it destroyed its unions in that country. And so, in fact, the record on Reagan trying to destroy the unions is not as strong as Walker suggests. And in fact, if people wanted to vote for that platform, I suppose they could have voted for David Koch when he was running for president that year.

Second of all, the fact is that Scott Walker’s conversation on that phone call demonstrated that he has never intended to negotiate in good faith with the unions in the state, and that in fact it’s entirely a ruse, the budget gambit that he’s put forward, because the unions have said they’ll agree to the pension changes and the insurance changes, they just don’t want to lose their right to organize. And he made clear in that call that he has no intention, and basically never had any intention, in the way he was actually going to act, to ever negotiate, that he was intending to destroy the unions.

And that goes back to David Koch’s far-right radical agenda. This is a man who doesn’t believe there should be even corporate income taxes. This is a man who basically wants to rework our entire country to give himself and his billionaire buddies tremendous benefits. We don’t even know how much money Koch Industries pays in taxes, nationally or in Wisconsin. In fact, there was a controversy a couple years ago about whether they paid any taxes at all, any sort of income taxes at all — not Mr. Koch, but his companies.

And I think we have a huge lack of disclosure here about how much influence this man is having in Wisconsin and how much disclosure there was to the American people, to the people of Wisconsin, about this radical agenda. I can tell you that people in Wisconsin, overall, did not hear that Scott Walker ran on a campaign to do this. What he ran on a campaign to do was to create jobs. And his first act in office is to implement David Koch’s agenda to basically destroy the unions in this state and undermine good-paying jobs, hard-working jobs in the state. And also, Scott Walker has a provision in his bill to basically allow him to sell state assets, $100 million or more of state assets, through the utility companies to anyone he chooses, quote, “for any amount,” quote, without any oversight by any independent body whatsoever, for the state power plants in this state. So it’s an incredible overreach. It’s really a radical governor who’s come to power in a stealth way through these stealth funders.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Lisa Graves, in the short time we have left, could you talk about, as this crisis drags out and as the protesters continue to amass by the thousands, what the impact has been in public opinion in the state and in the rest of the Midwest as now these protests are now spreading to other states?

LISA GRAVES: Well, you know, there are some conflicting polls out there, but there are some really strong polling that says that the people of Wisconsin and the people of the country, including a recent USA Today poll or Gallup poll, that said that most people want to preserve the rights of people to organize, the right of people to unionize. And that’s because most Americans believe in the First Amendment, which includes the right to assemble and the right to petition your government for redress of grievances. It’s a fundamental right of people who are workers to come together to negotiate. It’s the only way they have any power to protect themselves. And the polling certainly favors people who want to preserve these basic fundamental rights of Americans that have existed for more than 60 years here in Wisconsin and beyond. What we’re seeing, however, is some effort to distort those polls by Fox News and others.

AMY GOODMAN: Lisa, I wanted to ask you, very quickly — we only have about 10 seconds — have you heard the latest news breaking on AP that Wisconsin’s Senate is dispatching State Patrol to homes of multiple Democratic senators. The Democratic senators, of course, have left Wisconsin, are in Illinois, so that they won’t have to participate — make a quorum so that legislation can go forward? What about the significance of this?

LISA GRAVES: Well, it’s more strongarm tactics by Walker. And in fact, a complaint was filed yesterday arguing that he’s misusing the state police to try to intimidate Democratic lawmakers who dare to try to oppose his radical agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, in the Capitol Rotunda there. We will be there tomorrow, and we’ll be speaking at the Orpheum Theatre tomorrow night, Thursday night. And on Friday night, I’ll be speaking at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Check our website at

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