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Prank caller convinces US senator he is billionaire businessman

A prank caller pretending to be a billionaire conservative businessman was able to have a lengthy conversation with Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor, about his strategy to cripple public employee unions in the US state.

The governor said he had “thought about” hiring outside agitators to disrupt demonstrations by thousands of union workers against a bill that would remove their collective bargaining rights.

His remarks are only likely to stiffen opposition to his proposals. On the call, Mr Walker joked about bringing a baseball bat to a meeting with Democratic leaders, and said it would "be outstanding" to be flown out to California by businessman David Koch for a good time after the battle was over.

Mr Koch donated $43,000 to the governor’s 2010 campaign and with his brother Charles own Koch Industries, which is the largest privately-owned company in America which has significant operations in Wisconsin.

The conversation was posted on the Buffalo Beast, a left-leaning website based in New York. The governor also said he would tell 14 Democrat state senators, whose absence denied the Senate a quorum needed for a vote on his proposal, that he was "willing to sit down and talk" with them but "only ... if they came back to the Capitol with all 14 of them".

Mr Walker said on the call that his legal advisers believed the presence of the 14 in the Capitol building alone, but not the Senate chamber, would allow the Republicans to declare a quorum in the chamber and pass the measure.

"If you heard I was going to talk to them that's the only reason why," Mr Walker said, according to a transcript of the telephone call posted on website Wispolitics.

The standoff between the governor and Democrats is being closely watched across the US because other conservative Republican governors may try to go after powerful public employee unions as part of their budget-cutting policies.

Public-sector unions are an important part of the Democratic Party base. President Barack Obama and other Democrats will need the strong support of unions in the 2012 elections to counter a huge influx of corporate funds allowed under a Supreme Court decision last year.

Democrats in the Wisconsin assembly criticised Mr Walker's comments, saying they had nothing to do with his assertion that legislation stripping public employees' collective bargaining rights is needed to help solve a looming budget deficit in the Midwestern state.

"That's why we must fight it! That is why people must come to the Capitol and fight this!" Rep Jon Richards yelled as thousands of protesters inside the rotunda roared in approval. "This isn't about balancing the budget, this is about a political war."

Mr Walker's spokesman that the governor took the call, which will only heighten widespread suspicions that billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch are pulling strings in Wisconsin's battle as part of a conservative agenda to limit the unions' power.

"I'm not going to let one prank phone call be a distraction from the job we have to do," Mr Walker said. "The things I said are the things I've said publicly all the time."

The governor's plan would take away the ability of state and local public employees to collectively bargain for working conditions, benefits, or any other than their base salaries. Unions could not collect mandatory dues and would face a vote of its members every year to stay in existence.