In late February, 2011, a prank phone call to Wisconsin's governor demonstrated the value of so-called "independent expenditures." After Democratic Senators opposed to Governor Scott Walker's "budget repair bill" complained that the governor is "just hard-lined — will not talk, will not communicate, will not return phone calls," Walker accepted a call he believed was from New York billionaire David Koch, a prominent contributor to conservative organizations and causes (including plaintiffs in this case, Americans for Prosperity and Wisconsin Prosperity Network), and whose PAC contributed $43,000 to Walker's campaign. Koch also gave $1 million to the Republican Governor’s Association, which subsequently spent $5 million in support of Walker’s campaign. The caller was actually a blogger who recorded the conversation.
While it may be unsettling that Walker accepted a phone call from an out-of-state "issue advocacy" funder while refusing to speak with his own state's elected representatives, the Citizens United majority acknowledged "[t]hat speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt." However, Governor Walker’s request for support in the form of independent expenditures was particularly revealing. In response to the phony "David Koch" asking "what else could we do for you down there?" Walker replied:
"Well the biggest thing would be-and your guy on the ground [Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips] . . . per your question , the more groups that are encouraging people not just to show up but to call lawmakers and tell them to hang firm with the governor, the better. Because the more they get that reassurance, the easier it is for them to vote yes."This is a clear appeal to "David Koch" that the groups he funds (including Americans for Prosperity) make "independent expenditures" for "issue ads" or robo-calls requesting citizens call their legislator. The governor clearly recognized that independent expenditures sway public opinion and are valuable to an elected official. Indeed, Governor Walker appeared to believe that "issue ads" are so powerful that it is more important to speak with a man who could make significant independent expenditures favoring his budget bill than to converse with legislators who disagreed with him, but could allow his proposed legislation to proceed to a vote.