By now most people in Wisconsin who are closely following the protests in Madison are aware of Governor Walker’s attempt at kissing up to a wealthy corporate  campaign donor by slashing pay, benefits and bargaining rights for tens of thousands of middle-class Wisconsinites.  Said kissing up occurred during a 20-minute phone call with David Koch, one of the two brothers behind Koch Industries and a major donor to Walker and chief supporter of Americans for Prosperity (the group that funds and organizes the tea party). Of course, the “David Koch” Walker spoke with was actually Ian Murphy, a blogger with Buffalo Beast, an online news website.  His post with audio of the full conversation is here.  A full transcript of the call can be found here.

In a nutshell Walker spends 20 minutes openly talking strategy to boost political support of his union stripping measures with a man he assumes is one of the largest donors to his campaign.  These strategies include:

  • Telling the 14 Democratic Senators hiding out in Illinois that he will “talk” with them as a means of tricking them into making quorum so the Republican state legislature can pass his budget repair bill (by the way–these 14 Senators represent millions of Wisconsinites, but apparently don’t deserve face time with the Governor, who actually represents all of us, not just the Republicans).
  • Having “Koch”  help with “getting the message out” about the budget repair bill “not necessarily with ads”. This help would be provided to Republicans from swing legislative districts who are apparently wavering in approval of Walker’s measures.
  • Approving, or at least being part of the approval process of, the Senate President’s proposal to withhold direct deposits of the 14 Senators in Illinois.
  • Having the attorney general investigate the possibility of using felony charges to coerce Democrats back.
  • Acknowledging that he or his administration considered bringing in people to antagonize protesters, but decided not to because the press will soon grow tired of the protests.
  • And perhaps most appallingly, saying he would give layoff notices to thousands of state employees as a way to ratchet up pressure for the Democrats to return. (Would you want your father or mother or wife or husband to be laid off so that your Governor could get the most win out a political argument? It should be mentioned that the unions have already fully agreed to all of Walker’s concessions so long as unions can still organize and bargain in the future.)

Analysis of the call is only starting to trickle in during the past day. Obviously the most crucial question that must be answered is whether such a conversation violates any of Wisconsin’s ethics law.  The Governor is certainly asking “Koch” to help him get the message out about his proposals in certain legislative districts, but is he asking for a donation? Does the help he’s asking for imply a request for ads, which require money? Are ads buys considered a campaign donation?  It seems murky.  Certainly, the press was beginning to explore some of the ethical issues in initial stories this evening.  Here’s the reporting from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin State Journal, Associated Press and Appleton Post Crescent.  All four open the doors for possible ethical issues with three acknowledging a complaint voiced today by the Public Action Campaign Fund that the discussion of the labor dispute with Koch (a donor and lobbyist) could be an ethical violation.  The State Journal’s article also raises concerns about the implications of Walker expressing a willingness for Koch to fly him to California, which if accepted would be a violation of state ethics rules.

But are these actual ethics violations? Is a willingness to commit an ethics violation the same thing as actually committing a violation? It’s not like a formal invitation was extended to Walker for a trip to California.

But even if no legal issues stem from the prank call, the Governor’s willingness to speak in such detail and strategize with a campaign donor and lobbyist on the taxpayer’s dime should raise some alarms with independent viewers of the protests in Madison.  What Walker’s call reveals is that the Governor is certainly more willing to speak to a large campaign donor than with thousands of regular people from Wisconsin and their representatives.

Further, the system of checks and balances in Wisconsin is in a state of total bankruptcy.  Not only is the Republican-controlled legislature passing everything the Governor proposes with virtually no review or change, the legislative leadership is consulting with Walker on political strategy to speed up passage of his bills. The state’s top law enforcement official, Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is also completely in Walker’s pocket and apparently has no qualms about using taxpayer resources to shore up a big political win for his boss…er…that’s us…so his political party? I guess?

Further, Walker spends several minutes comparing himself to Ronald Reagan and explaining how being a jerk to working people helps fight the red scare or something.  (Little known fact: I went in 2009 to Berlin for the 20th anniversary celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall and nobody mentioned Reagan firing air traffic controllers, or Reagan at all for that matter…but there was a lot of talk about Gorbachev, Poland, Air America and the phenomenal incompetence of the East German Government…just saying.)  Also Governor Walker thinks it’s great to joke about bringing a baseball bat to meetings with Wisconsin state senators.

As we continue to move forward with the legislative process, the question we should be asking ourselves is, even if everything in the phone conversation is legal, does that make it right? Is this how we want our government to be run? Should some billionaire from Kansas be pulling the strings of Wisconsin’s Governor?