Former tea party U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh said he will sue the Chicago Sun-Times over a story that said he is trying to end his child-support obligations.
The story, first reported online Monday, said the one-term Republican congressman was seeking to stop child-support payments after losing his 2012 re-election bid. Walsh’s attorneys filed a request Feb. 1 to lower his obligation to 20 percent of his salary until his youngest of three children with his ex-wife graduates high school in May and therefore is emancipated. Walsh, of McHenry, was voted out of office Nov. 6 and has had no salary since his term ended Jan. 3.
The fact that Walsh’s ex-wife sued him in 2011 for allegedly owing more than $100,000 in child support became part of the bitter campaign for the 8th Congressional District that he lost to Democrat Tammy Duckworth.
Walsh said in a statement Monday that the Sun-Times libeled him by stating he did not want to make payments and that he was behind on payments. The article quoted the attorney for Walsh’s ex-wife as saying he has not paid what is due for January or February.
“I have never shirked my financial responsibility for my children. The Sun Times [sic] has had a vendetta against me since I was first elected. I will no longer take it. I have had to live with the ‘deadbeat dad’ label, even though the original case against me was dropped one year ago, and my ex-wife acknowledged that I have always been a loving and supportive father,” Walsh said.
Under the law, a plaintiff has to prove that a published statement was untrue, was made without privilege of public record or public proceeding, and damaged the plaintiff’s reputation. Public officials, such as Walsh, have a harder time proving libel because they have the added burden of proving actual malice, meaning that the statement’s authors knew it to be false or published it with reckless disregard for the truth.
The Sun-Times story, since updated online, quotes Walsh as saying he’s not trying to get out of paying child support. The article also links to a copy of the request filed in court.
Walsh and his ex-wife, Laura, announced in April 2012 that they had solved their dispute and that she was dropping her lawsuit. The statement attributed to both of them stated that they agree that Walsh was not a deadbeat dad.
Issues with his personal finances dogged the tea party firebrand through his entire congressional career. He had to deal during his 2010 campaign with news that he lost his Evanston condo to foreclosure the year before, and his former campaign manager sued for $20,000 in back payments. That lawsuit later was settled. News of the child-support lawsuit came just after Walsh made a video blasting the Obama administration and Democrats for fiscal irresponsibility.
Walsh represented the 8th District, which included northeastern McHenry County, for two years after he narrowly defeated three-term Democratic incumbent Melissa Bean. The Illinois Democratic post-census remap put Walsh into the 14th District now represented by Republican Randy Hultgren. Walsh chose to run in the 8th, which mapmakers shifted south to more Democrat-friendly territory.
Walsh is in the process of launching a super PAC and has expressed interest in statewide office, such as running for governor or the U.S. Senate in 2014.