Wisconsin anti-prank calling bill has ‘nothing’ to do with The Buffalo Beast

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, March 3, 2011 10:57 EDT
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Update (below): ‘Not a coincidence,’ Beast editor declares

A bill in the Wisconsin legislature that would impose penalties for making prank phone calls actually has nothing to do with a recent prank call that duped Governor Scott Walker into chatting candidly with a journalist pretending to be billionaire tea party financier David Koch.

Or, that’s what they’re saying anyway.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Mary Lazich and state Rep. Mark Honadel, was actually reintroduced after Walker’s encounter with The Buffalo Beast‘s editor Ian Murphy, making its appearance in 2011 actually the second swipe at state lawmakers.

The bill had initially been proposed back in 2009, which was first confirmed by Talking Points Memo.

It ultimately died in committee.

With a Republican dominated statehouse supportive of Gov. Walker, recent events make this bill quite likely to pass.

The proposed law would mandate fines from $1,000-$10,000 for anyone who falsifies caller ID data, gives a fake number or otherwise deceives the call’s recipients in order to defraud, cause harm or wrongfully obtain information.

Government regulators and police, however, would be exempt from these restrictions.

A transcript of Walker’s talk with Murphy isn’t pretty. A few highlights included the governor warning the phony oil baron that Wisconsin House Rep. Tim Cullen, a Democrat who’s voted with Republicans on numerous issues, was “not one of us”; Walker supposedly commenting that he’s “got the layoff notices ready” and bragging about a baseball bat with his name on it; and accepting an offer to be flown out to California for “a good time.”

He also remarked that he’d considered using agent provocateurs mixed in with the protesters to stir up trouble, but opted not to because of the risk of the plan backfiring.

Police chief Noble Wray of Madison, Wisconsin called that specific revelation “very unsettling and troubling,” and asked that the governor explain himself.

Though his office confirmed the call was real, Walker — who Murphy mocked as “oblivious” — has made no further statements on the matter.

Wisconsin-based student publication The Badger Herald noted that the bill has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

Update: ‘Not a coincidence,’ Beast editor declares

Responding to a request for comment, the journalist behind the now infamous “Koch Whore” video told Raw Story that his original inspiration was to call Gov. Walker pretending to be former Egypt dictator Hosni Mubarak, offering his solidarity with the embattled Republican.

It started with a story by reporter Amanda Terkel at the Huffington Post, who quoted a Wisconsin Democrat complaining that Walker would not talk to them. Reading that, Murphy wondered, “who could get through with the most ease?”

“Turns out it was David Koch,” he said.

As for the anti-prank calling bill? “Reintroducing it is not a coincidence,” Buffalo Beast editor Ian Murphy told Raw Story early Thursday afternoon. “I mean, it’s a little close to the events that just happened. For me, it seems like they have more important things to worry about right now than stopping prank phone calls.”

“So now, you know, ‘Is your refrigerator running?’ is going to cost little Timmy $5,000. I love that idea.”

The bill’s full text is available online (PDF).

Photo: Prank callers, via Marry Maddux (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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