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Originally published February 23, 2011 at 7:19 PM | Page modified February 24, 2011 at 7:38 AM

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Prank sucks in Wisconsin governor

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been punk'd, his office confirmed Wednesday. The Republican governor who is pushing legislation that would end collective bargaining for public employees was at the wrong end of a prank telephone call with a person he believed was David Koch, a conservative billionaire businessman.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been punk'd, his office confirmed Wednesday. The Republican governor who is pushing legislation that would end collective bargaining for public employees was at the wrong end of a prank telephone call with a person he believed was David Koch, a conservative billionaire businessman.

In reality, the caller was Ian Murphy, a blogger from Buffalo, N.Y.

Koch and his brother, Charles, own Koch Industries, the largest privately owned company in America and one with significant operations in Wisconsin. Its political-action committee gave $43,000 to Walker's campaign, and David Koch gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which funded ads attacking Walker's opponent in last year's election.

The Kochs also give millions to support Americans For Prosperity, a conservative business group that launched a $320,000 television ad campaign in favor of Walker's legislation Wednesday.

Posing as David Koch, Murphy makes inflammatory statements on unions and Democrats. Walker says Wisconsin is at the vanguard of a set of states in which conservative governors are battling with workers over union rights. Walker agrees with the impersonator that Wisconsin is the "first domino."

"This is our moment," he says on the recording.

Walker also explains potential tactics for breaking the deadlock, including trying to lure Democratic senators who fled the state back to the Capitol to negotiate and then pushing the bill through while Republicans have the quorum needed to move the measure.

"If you had heard that I was going to talk to them, that would be the only reason why," Walker says on the recording.

The governor also said he planned to announce Thursday that state workers would start receiving notices that they're at risk for layoff. Walker says 5,000 to 6,000 such notices could be sent.

At the end of the call, the prankster says: "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."

"All right, that would be outstanding," Walker replies, adding the standoff is "all about getting our freedoms back."

Democrats seized on the recorded comments as evidence that Walker plans to go beyond budget cuts to crushing unions.

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"This isn't about balancing the budget. This is about a political war," Rep. Jon Richards yelled Wednesday on the floor of the state Assembly.

The governor's plan would strip most public employees of collective-bargaining rights and force them to pay more for health-care and retirement benefits. Unions could not collect mandatory dues and would be forced to conduct annual votes of members to stay in existence.

The proposal has set off more than a week of protests at the Capitol.

Murphy, who runs an online publication called the Buffalo Beast, said he was inspired to prank the governor Tuesday after hearing he was difficult to contact. Murphy said he developed his Koch impression through brief research mixed with guesswork as to how the businessman might sound.

Charles Marsh, who teaches journalism ethics at the University of Kansas, said the website's tactic "certainly doesn't fall into any time-tested concept of what a true journalist is."

Yet, Marsh added, "I acknowledge my own hypocrisy. I think it's disgraceful and shameful. I would fire any reporter who did that. But I can't wait to read what the governor said."

Compiled from the Chicago Tribune, The Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers

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