(CNN) – They’re hard-charging, compromise-damning members of Congress, and they’ve changed the debate in Washington over the size and spending of the government.
In recent days, Republican hard-liners in the debt ceiling talks have been vociferous in their rhetoric.
(Top left corner: Kevin Yoder; Center: Joe Walsh; Lower Left: Mike Lee; Lower Right: Tim Griffin)
At a tea party rally, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said his faction needs to push forward a balanced budget amendment and other measures “… in order to save our country from a Congress that for decades has been burying our children and our grandchildren, both born and unborn, under a mountain of debt.”
But according to recently released disclosure forms, Lee and others in his caucus have some significant personal debt of their own.
The documents — annual personal financial disclosure forms that were released in June — show that Lee had amassed at least $15,000 in credit card debt and had a $50,000 line of credit at a Utah bank as of late last year.
He’s not alone. Republican Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas had at least $15,000 of debt accumulated on an American Express card, according to the forms. Griffin, who won his seat with tea party support, has recently said Washington has “a spending addiction.”
Rep. Kevin Yoder, a freshman Republican from Kansas, said in a recent press release, “Washington needs to cut up the credit cards.” But Yoder’s own form shows he amassed at least $15,000 in what’s called a “revolving charge account” with Citigroup.
Ryan Alexander, president of the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense, says, “It raises that question: How are you managing your personal debt? You’re telling us how to manage our debt as a country, you’re making ultimatums, and we don’t know what you’re doing with your personal debt. And they’re holding credit card debt. Not every American does that. That’s a choice that you made, to put that kind of debt on your own personal finances.”
Then there’s the case of freshman Rep. Joe Walsh, Republican from Illinois. Walsh is another tea party favorite who has pushed for a tougher line with Democrats in negotiations.
This week Walsh told CNN, “Thank God congressmen like me were here. Imagine – step back and imagine – if Republicans hadn’t taken over Congress, this city would have raised the debt limit who knows how much.”
But Walsh’s ex-wife Laura Walsh says he needs to pay up on a big debt: $117,437 in child support. That figure is part of a lawsuit against Walsh she filed.
The attorney for Laura Walsh told CNN that Walsh has not paid any child support since 2008.
In an interview with CNN, Walsh admitted that he had struggled financially and had lost a home. “Look, I’m the most openly vetted candidate in the world. I have had financial troubles and I have talked about them throughout the campaign,” he said, “This is where the real America is.”
Real America? From the CHICAGO SUN-TIMES:
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?”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.