Even before he knew the Kochs personally, Walker recognized what the brothers had done for him, and for ambitious young men like him. Spending by the Kochs, via direct donations and independent expenditures, played a definitional role in generating the "Republican wave" of 2010, the year Walker was elected.
Walker's understanding of this debt led to an incident that revealed much of what Americans will remember about David Koch, even though he was not an actual participant. In February 2011, as tens of thousands of teachers, nurses, librarians, and their allies marched in opposition to Walker's attack on unions and collective-bargaining rights for public employees, the phone rang in the governor's office. The caller identified himself as David Koch and was put through to Walker.
The caller -- a brilliant prankster (the late Ian Murphy) who was pretending to be Koch, was soon trading notes with the governor about the "vested interest" that Koch Industries had in Walker's assault on unions. The 20-minute conversation revealed the obsequious deference of an elected Republican governor to the benefactors of his 2010 race -- and, as it would turn out, of the campaigns that followed for Walker, who faced a citizen-demanded recall and tough reelection fights before he was finally defeated in 2018.
Here's the critical exchange from 2011:
Koch caller: "Well, I tell you what, Scott: once you crush these bastards I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time."
Walker: "All right, that would be outstanding. Thanks for all the support in helping us move the cause forward..."
Koch caller: "Absolutely. And, you know, we have a little bit of a vested interest as well."
Walker: "Well, that's just it."
Yes, that is just it.
The manipulations of democracy that David Koch and his brother funded -- extreme gerrymandering, defenses of an Electoral College that has prevented popular-vote winners from becoming president, voter suppression schemes, and assaults on unions -- did much to elect Republicans like Walker. But the most recent Republican president has turned the movement David and Charles Koch envisioned toward extremes that more closely mirror the fever dreams of their father. And if Democrats ever get their act together, they will, for the sake of not just their party but the future of society and the planet, be required to upend what the Kochs have done.
So the full measure of David Koch's influence has yet to be made. But some history has been written in stone -- by the malleable Scott Walkers and Paul Ryans of the 2010s. This much we know for certain: When David Koch called -- or seemed to call -- his political hirelings answered.