Watchdog Seeks Probe Over Dem Candidate’s Muddy Financial Disclosures

Sri Preston Kulkarni's campaign issued statement that contradicts disclosure forms

 Sri Preston Kulkarni
 Sri Preston Kulkarni / Twitter

A government watchdog group is seeking a probe into the financial disclosures of a Texas Democratic candidate after he reported just thousands in total income and his campaign issued a statement that is contradictory to what the disclosure forms show.

Sri Preston Kulkarni, a former State Department diplomat who left his position to run in Texas's 22nd Congressional District in 2018, a race he narrowly lost, is again seeking a bid at the seat with incumbent Republican representative Pete Olson retiring from Congress. The district is targeted by national Democrats.

Since the time that Kulkarni left the State Department, he has reported earnings of only $6,000 for consulting work from Mires, Ran, Clark & Associates, a Texas-based investor and shareholder advocacy group, on his 2019 financial disclosure forms. The Democrat's campaign was questioned on the reported income and claimed that he has been dipping into his savings while running the campaign.

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Kulkarni, however, did not report any assets above $1,000 on his most recent financial disclosure forms.

A search of Federal Election Commission filings shows that during the time that Kulkarni reported such low assets, he provided his 2018 campaign with $50,000 in loans. Kulkarni eventually repaid himself from the campaign's coffers and added thousands more for the likes of advertising, ballot filing fees, and even a $2,700 contribution refund.

Kulkarni also marks incurring credit card debt between $10,000 and $15,000 in June and between $50,001 and $100,000 in graduate student loan debt incurred September 2016 on the forms.

Now, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a D.C.-based government ethics group, is seeking a probe into Kulkarni for failing to file a "true, complete, and accurate" financial disclosure form.

"Presumably because he reported no assets and little income, Kulkarni’s campaign addressed his finances," Kendra Arnold, the executive director of FACT, said in the complaint to the House Committee on Ethics. "However, contradictory to his financial disclosure report, Kulkarni’s campaign stated he does in fact have assets."

Financial disclosure forms must include a "full and complete statement" of personal financial information, including assets of more than $1,000. The complaint notes that it is unlawful for any person to "knowingly and willfully fail to report any required information or fail to file," which carries penalties of fines up to $50,000 and up to one year in prison.

"In this case, House candidate Kulkarni reported he had no assets, yet his own campaign stated he has ‘savings' that he is relying on during his campaign," Arnold said. "Kulkarni’s contradictory statements alone demonstrate his personal financial disclosure report does not appear to be ‘accurate and complete.' Moreover, this does not appear to be a singular omission—Kulkarni failed to disclose his student loan debt incurred in 2016 on his personal financial disclosure report filed in 2018."

"Federal law does not allow for federal candidates to omit information on their reports and for very important reasons," Arnold said. "The financial disclosure requirement is part of the law to ensure an ethical and transparent government. It is not just a technical requirement—the timely and accurate filing permits citizens to assess any conflicts of interest the candidate may have during his or her campaign for office."

The watchdog asks the Ethics committee to investigate Kulkarni’s "failure to disclose information and impose any supported fine" and adds that if any information is discovered "indicating the omissions were deliberate" that they must refer the matter to the attorney general for additional action.

Kulkarni replied to an email inquiry seeking comment on the complaint by looping in his manager, Will Washington, and asking if FACT is the organization led by Matt Whitaker, who was the acting U.S. attorney general prior to William Barr taking over the position. After being informed that Whitaker left the group in 2017, and that it is now led by Arnold, neither Kulkarni nor his manager provided a comment.