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TRUST INDEX: Campaign ads in District 22 congressional race claim cocaine use, getting fired from jobs

You’ve seen the campaign ads, mudslinging and muckraking on both sides in the District 22 congressional race. KPRC 2 Investigates is putting the claims made by the campaigns through the Trust Index.

District 22 covers parts of Fort Bend, Brazoria and Harris counties. It has been represented by Republican Pete Olson for more than a decade. With Olson retiring, Troy Nehls (R) and Sri Kulkarni (D) are locked in a dog-fight to replace him.

“Oh I think we have seen a lot of mud sling,” said Michael Adams, Ph.D., of Texas Southern University’s School of Public Affairs.

It’s a no-holds-barred battle -- online and over the airwaves.

Ad against Nehls

KPRC 2 Investigates examined two key sections in each campaign ad -- both produced by outside groups, not the campaigns themselves.

Let’s start with the ad against Nehls, paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Here are the claims made in the ad:

“... Troy Nehls was fired from two police departments. He lied about his criminal record. He destroyed evidence ...”

In 1998, Richmond police did fire Nehls. He acknowledges this. Destruction of evidence is cited.

However, KPRC 2 Investigates could not find any official records of Nehls getting fired twice.

Even the DCCC’s proof shows this in bold.

No official proof Nehls was fired twice means this claim is red, “Not True.”

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

What is the Trust Index?

What about the claim that Nehls lied about his criminal record?

We found a 1988 police report and it states that a 20-year-old Nehls was arrested in Wisconsin for obstructing an officer and underage drinking. Nehls claims he wasn’t arrested, only cited. He provided us with a video statement from the police officer who issued those citations.

“There was no physical arrest or anything, just citations,” said Officer William Wheeler.

This part of the ad gets yellow, “Be Careful.”

Be Careful

After reviewing this topic, we've found some issues - Be Careful.

What is the Trust Index?

The documents said one thing, but those who lived it claimed otherwise.

Ad against Kulkarni

Let’s move across the aisle.

The ad against Kulkarni, paid for by the Congressional Leadership Fund, makes the following claims:

“... What do we really know about Sri Kulkarni? About the notorious desert drug parties he attended? His cocaine arrest? ...”

The desert drug parties is a reference to Nevada’s Burning Man festival. Kulkarni posted about his 2017 attendance on Facebook. But there is no evidence of drug use on his part.

This gets a yellow, “Be Careful.”

Be Careful

After reviewing this topic, we've found some issues - Be Careful.

What is the Trust Index?

The claim about a cocaine arrest -- is true. Green on this one.

It's True

We’ve reviewed information surrounding this topic and confirmed that It’s True.

What is the Trust Index?

Kulkarni was arrested for cocaine possession in 1997 at age 19. Kulkarni admitted guilt and was given deferred adjudication.

Voter reaction

We asked Fort Bend County voters for their reaction on these ads:

  • “I don’t think they are useful for people to evaluate candidates,” said Jason Rath.
  • “Everybody’s negative. Nothing positive,” said Elaine Robinson.
  • “You never see anything good about the person, just negative,” said Alex Velasco.

Web extra: How effective are these ads?

Do they work? What is the sell? What’s your take?

We spoke with Adams and political strategist Keir Murray about the campaign ads circulating in the District 22 congressional race.

Interactive map

Learn more about the makeup of Congressional District 22 with this information from the U.S. Census Bureau.

How did we get here?

A look at the primary season in District 22 leading up to the November 2020 election.


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