Congressman Joe Walsh says he "absolutely" does not owe ex-wife Laura Walsh or their three children $117,437 and vows to fight what he says are "wildly inaccurate" claims.
"I am not a deadbeat dad. My life has been my kids, and I have provided for and been there for and loved my kids," the 8th District Republican said in an interview with the Daily Herald, during which he spoke candidly for the first time about the child-support claim.
Yet, the McHenry Republican, whose charismatic candor and caustic rhetoric have made him the face of the tea party, is entering unfamiliar territory in waging this battle.
"You know me. I answer anything. (I'm) Joe Walsh. I lost a home to foreclosure, I've struggled with bills. It's been a bumpy ride," Walsh told a group of 30 constituents at a "Cup of Joe with Joe" coffee session Saturday in Crystal Lake.
This is different, he says.
"I've got to be so careful about getting into details," he said, saying he doesn't want to jeopardize his standing in court.
Laura Walsh did not return phone calls seeking comment. Her lawyer, Jack Coladarci, said Thursday that "trying to get money from (Walsh) has been a constant battle."
The freshman congressman's ex-wife filed the child support claim against him Dec. 6.
"All I know is this thing was filed three weeks after I won," Walsh said. With a 291-vote margin, Walsh on Nov. 17 formally declared victory over three-term Democratic Congresswoman Melissa Bean of Barrington.
"It totally came out of left field to me," he said of the suit. "It was totally unexpected, and (now) for eight months we've been trying to sit down and get it resolved. I'm going to continue to do that," he said.
Walsh does not list any child-support debt on his congressional financial disclosure form, where he is required both by law and by congressional ethics rules to list debts in excess of $10,000. Inaccuracies in those statements could land him in a vat of political hot water.
The filing contends that Walsh is in contempt for "failure and refusal" to pay full child support from November 2005 through December 2010 for his three children, ages 23, 20 and 16.
That comes to $99,480, or $117,437 with interest, the lawsuit says.
Right now, $2,136 in child support is being taken every month from Walsh's congressional paychecks.
Laura Walsh, in the lawsuit, says that while her ex-husband loaned his own campaign $35,000 and took vacations, he said he couldn't afford child support payments.
"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," the filing reads. "Joe has paid himself back at least $14,200 for the loans he gave himself. Again, he failed to make any child support payments to Laura from these returned loaned proceeds."
According to the filing, Laura Walsh "has repeatedly demanded that Joe pay the child support, and Joe has ignored her requests and refused to make the payments required."
Walsh's salary fluctuated as he worked various positions over the last six years, with investment firm Advantage Futures, the United Republican Fund, and as a self-employed consultant, according to court documents.
Yet, Coladarci said, Walsh never went to court seeking a modification in the $2,136 child support amount he owed each month.
"He never came back to court and said lower my monthly number," Coladarci said.
Joe and Laura Walsh were married in 1987, court records show.
Laura Walsh filed for divorce in 2002. In March 2004, the pair entered into a joint parenting agreement and were awarded joint custody. Their eldest son went to live with Walsh; the younger son and daughter went to live with their mother.
According to that agreement, both parties were to "equally share" medical and dental, educational and extracurricular expenses, but Laura Walsh claims she has paid "100 percent of these joint bills and expenses."
In addition to being paid the money owed, Laura Walsh has asked the court to have the congressman's driver's license suspended until he makes good on his late payments. She wants his accounts frozen until he "provides a full accounting of the cash flow activity and use of said accounts" as well as a judicial lien against his assets in the amount of the unpaid child support and other unpaid costs and expenses. She is also seeking for the monthly child support amount to be adjusted to reflect Walsh's $174,000-a-year congressional salary.
"If ... he shows proof that he's paid it, that's the only way he could be right and that she should be wrong," Coladarci said.
A status hearing is set for Sept. 14.
News of the child-support suit first broke last month.
This is not the first time that Walsh has faced scrutiny for his personal finances. Shortly after winning the GOP primary in 2009, Walsh came under fire for a foreclosure on his Evanston condominium.
Last fall, the Daily Herald also reported that Walsh had state and federal liens for unpaid taxes totaling nearly $25,000, according to records from the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. Walsh has since paid the taxes.
Since the child-support allegations broke, Walsh has begun each of his public appearances inviting the public to ask him questions.
"I talk about it at the beginning, but I encourage people to ask about it," he said.
Largely, however, the issue has gone unaddressed at those events, with his supporters rallying around him.
At a Wauconda town hall last Thursday, an audience member who criticized Walsh on the matter late in the evening was booed by the crowd. "People in my base are angry," Walsh said. "My name ID was through the roof before this thing came out; now it's off the chart."