Tea Party Rep. Joe Walsh sued for $100,000 in child support
BY ABDON M. PALLASCH Political Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org July 27, 2011 9:59PM
Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill. addresses a Tea Party rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
Updated: June 13, 2012 10:33AM
Freshman U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, a tax-bashing Tea Party champion who sharply lectures President Barack Obama and other Democrats on fiscal responsibility, owes more than $100,000 in child support to his ex-wife and three children, according to documents his ex-wife filed in their divorce case in December.
“I won’t place one more dollar of debt upon the backs of my kids and grandkids unless we structurally reform the way this town spends money!” Walsh says directly into the camera in his viral video lecturing Obama on the need to get the nation’s finances in order.
Walsh starts the video by saying, “President Obama, quit lying. Have you no shame, sir? In three short years, you’ve bankrupted this country.”
In court documents, after his ex-wife, Laura Walsh, asked a judge to suspend his driver’s license until he paid his child support, Joe Walsh asks his ex-wife’s lawyer: “Have you no decency?”
Joe Walsh’s attorney, R. Steven Polachek, called the claim of a $117,437 debt “unfounded.”
“I dispute that he owes the child support that she’s claiming or anywhere near that amount,” Polachek said. “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.”
While Laura Walsh’s attorneys say they have been awaiting a meeting with Joe Walsh’s attorney to work out a settlement, Polachek said it’s her attorneys who have been stalling.
An intense, silver-haired firebrand, Walsh, 49, has taken cable TV by storm in recent weeks, becoming the unofficial spokesman for the “No compromise” faction of the Republican majority in the U.S. House — refusing to consider any debt crisis solution that includes raising taxes on the wealthy.
Walsh admits he is not wealthy. Some of his financial problems — including losing his Evanston condo to foreclosure — were documented before his out-of-nowhere victory last fall in the 8th Congressional District in Chicago’s north and northwest suburbs.
But court documents examined this week by the Chicago Sun-Times during research for a profile on the increasingly visible congressman showed his financial issues also included a nine-year child support battle with his ex-wife.
Before getting elected, he had told Laura Walsh that because he was out of work or between jobs, he could not make child support payments. So she was surprised to read in his congressional campaign disclosures that he was earning enough money to loan his campaign $35,000.
“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 a motion filed in December seeking $117,437 in back child support and interest. “Joe has paid himself back at least $14,200 for the loans he gave himself.”
Walsh’s attorneys responded in court filings: “Respondent admits that funds were loaned to his campaign fund. . . . Respondent admits that the campaign fund has repaid certain loans.”
He personally wrote in court filings that he thought he and his ex-wife were coming to an agreement on the money he owes. He noted that the children have lived with him for part of the last nine years.
Walsh lives with his new wife and children in McHenry. He has not paid any of the $117,437 yet, Laura Walsh’s attorney, Jack Coladarci, said Wednesday.
Joe and Laura Walsh had been married 15 years when she filed for divorce in December 2002. The thickness of the court file reflects Laura Walsh’s nine years of trying to collect child support and expenses from a man who crusades against compromise. Laura Walsh went to court repeatedly over the past nine years to get him to pay up, sometimes even asking the court to garnish his wages, court records show.
In 2004, Laura Walsh complained in a motion that despite her ex-husband’s claims of poverty, he took a vacation to Mexico with his girlfriend and another to Italy. The following year, he complained in a court filing that his ex-wife mailed him a motion while she knew he was in Nicaragua doing charitable work with one of their children.
In her December filing, Laura Walsh’s attorneys wrote, “The apparent availability of large sums of money from either his employment, his family or his campaign has allowed him to live quite a comfortable lifestyle, while at the same time, due to his failure to pay child support or any of his share of the education costs or medical expenses, Laura and his children were denied any of these advantages.”
After Joe Walsh missed payments, Cook County Judge Grace Dickler wrote in a 2005 order, “If Joe Walsh fails to tender [his 50 percent share of children’s expenses] to Laura within 7 days, ONE TIME, the court shall enter an automatic withdrawal . . . from Joe Walsh’s employer.”
In the most current controversy, Walsh has responded to his ex-wife’s plea for $117,000 by submitting an e-mail that he says shows she was willing in September to settle with him for about $10,000.
An e-mail from her that the congressman attached to a court motion showed Laura Walsh saying: “For almost 2½ years now I have been very patient about money you owe me for your share of the children’s expenses because I thought you were not working. Even last summer when I was out of work for a few months, I scraped to pay for medical and education-related expenses on my own.”
That e-mail dealt with child expenses above and beyond the child support debt.
Rep. Walsh responded with this e-mail to her: “Laura, I’m good with what you’re proposing.”
In prior years, court records show Walsh objecting to paying for expenses such as summer camp or a homecoming suit he never agreed to.
But, at least recently, he appears to be paying his share of the expenses, said Laura Walsh’s attorney, Coladarci, “because I haven’t been getting calls from my client saying he hasn’t.”
Laura Walsh is a non-practicing attorney who works for the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, according to the state of Illinois’ Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Committee.
As a sometimes-employed financial consultant/venture capitalist/Republican activist, Joe Walsh’s resume is difficult to characterize. His congressional disclosure statement says he earned $14,500 in 2009 from Advantage Futures and Michigan Avenue Ventures and $8,000 in self-employment.
In 2010, he was paid $21,000 by the United Republican Fund of Illinois. He also has worked as a teacher and an administrator of education trust funds. He now is paid $175,000 a year as a congressman.
When Coladarci called the congressional payroll office to have them enforce a court order withholding $2,164 from Walsh’s monthly check for child support, the payroll staffer “seemed surprised” and said “tsk, tsk, tsk,” Coladarci said.
Congress has withheld child support money from members’ paychecks over the years when ordered by a court, said Dan Weiser, a spokesman for the U.S. House of Representatives. He did not elaborate.
In 1994, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) owed $8,500 in child support.
‘Trying to work out a settlement’
Both sides in the Walsh case have been negotiating Walsh’s overdue child support since he filed his response in February.
“Out of respect for his being in Washington, we haven’t been pushing it. We have been trying to work out a settlement,” Coladarci said.
After Laura Walsh filed for divorce in 2002, Joe Walsh counter-filed for divorce and sought custody of the children, saying he worked from home and Laura Walsh “suffers from psychological and other conditions.” He has not repeated that charge in written motions since 2003. The couple had three children, then ages 15, 12 and 8. They are now 23, 20 and 16.
In addition to the foreclosure on his condominium, Walsh was haunted during his campaign by disclosures of liens on his property from unpaid bills and staffers abandoning his campaign, saying he wasn’t paying them.
Keith Liscio, who said Walsh hired him to be campaign manager — Walsh disputes that — has sued Walsh for $20,000 in salary he said Walsh owes him. Both sides are trying to settle that case.
Staffers learned during the campaign that Walsh was driving on a suspended license. His license was suspended twice in 2008 for his failure to appear in court, and he was cited in 2009 for driving on a suspended license, according to the Illinois Secretary of State.
Walsh’s energetic Tea Party politics are making him the darling of cable TV. He addressed a Tea Party rally Wednesday at the Capitol and appeared Wednesday night on CNN saying he and other “troublesome conservatives” in the House won’t vote for anything less than “a profound deal that will change this town so we never get to this point again.”
For more than 10 minutes last week, he sparred with liberal-leaning MSNBC “Hardball” host Chris Matthews, who once confessed that listening to President Obama, “I felt this thrill going up my leg.”
Walsh and Matthews shouted over each other for most of the interview about whether the Republican debt plan or Obama’s plan was less complete.
“Hey Chris, your president, who sends a tingle up your leg, your president has not been serious in six months! Why do you ignore that?” Walsh said.
“It’s our president,” Matthews interjected.
“He is our president,” Walsh conceded. “He doesn’t send a thrill up my leg, Chris, all right?”
After they belittled each other as “childish,” Walsh closed by saying, “You need to be more objective, but I love it, Chris.”
Illinois Democrats earlier this year, while redrawing congressional boundaries, mapped Walsh out of his district. Walsh, who already has raised $600,000 for a campaign, has not said which district he’ll run in.
This story contains corrected information.