CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, the tea party-backed Republican who squeaked into office last year by vowing to bring fiscal responsibility to Washington and who has been one of President Barack Obama’s most outspoken critics during the standoff over the debt ceiling, is being sued for more than $100,000 in unpaid child support, a newspaper reported.
The freshman congressman’s ex-wife, Laura Walsh, filed the claim against him in December as part of their divorce case, saying he owed $117,437 to her and their three children, the Chicago Sun-Timesreported in a story published Wednesday. She contends that Walsh loaned his own campaign $35,000 and took international vacations but said he couldn’t afford child support payments because he was between jobs or out of work.
“Joe personally loaned his campaign $35,000, which, given that he failed to make any child support payments to Laura because he `had no money’ is surprising,” Laura Walsh’s attorneys wrote in the motion. “Joe has paid himself back at least $14,200 for the loans he gave himself.”
Walsh, in a prepared statement, characterized that the story as a political “hit piece,” and suggested it was no accident that the paper would run the story about a marriage that ended eight years ago and a court case filed nearly eight months ago, just as lawmakers are in the middle of contentious debate over the debt ceiling.
“I am the tip of the spear in this current debate, and I will be attacked,” he wrote in a statement issued Thursday morning.
Walsh, whose campaign was marked by allegations of financial mismanagement, said he thought he and his ex-wife were coming to an agreement on the money owed, according to a February court filing. And in the statement, he said he has been “trying to resolve this issue since January in a court of law …”
The statement does not include any mention of the report that he owed $117,437, saying only that he has “always given everything I have to meet my financial obligations to my children…”
Nor does Walsh, whose website includes a video in which he accuses Obama of spending money “like a drunken sailor for three years,” address allegations made by his ex-wife that at the time Walsh was not keeping up with his child support he took two international vacations with his girlfriend.
Walsh’s attorney, R. Steven Polachek, denied that the congressman owed $117,437 in back child support and interest and said the amount was much less.
“I dispute that he owes the child support that she’s claiming or anywhere near that amount,” Polachek told the paper. “Joe Walsh hasn’t been a big-time wage-earner politician until recently – he’s had no more problems with child support than any other average guy.”
Joe and Laura Walsh were married for 15 years when she filed for divorce in 2002. He has since remarried.
Walsh, 49, unexpectedly captured his northeastern Illinois district last year by a slim margin, campaigning on a promise to reign in government spending and promoting his conservative values, among other things. He has recently gained notoriety for speaking out against the president and accusing him of lying about the impact of not raising the national debt ceiling.
“President Obama, quit lying,” he said in a video posted online this month. In it he also asks Obama, “Have you no shame, sir?”
Walsh said there is “plenty of money” to pay debt and cover Social Security even if the limit isn’t raised, and that Obama won’t get congressional approval to increase the $14.3 trillion debt limit unless the Democratic president backs a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, which Obama opposes. Obama says the country will default if Congress doesn’t raise the ceiling by Aug. 2.
The congressman’s alleged financial problems made headlines while he was campaigning last year, when former campaign field director Richard Cape claimed he would “spend, spend, spend uncontrollably.” His campaign manager quit and sued for $20,000 in nonpayment, and two other staffers who quit accused him of not properly disclosing a 2008 home foreclosure and traffic citations to the public, taking their grievances public. Walsh also bounced checks, including one to a Republican fundraiser.
A Walsh spokesman at the time called it a smear campaign by disgruntled workers and said the congressman had learned from his financial struggles, including the foreclosure.