Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Brat’s Facebook page is a hub of activity, and members of the Liberal Women of Chesterfield County are among the major players, regularly sharing their thoughts.
One person, a woman named Sara James, routinely took issue with their comments.
“Read much? Watch the video much? The post isn’t misleading at all if you calm down and actually do either,” James responded Sept. 5 to a woman who said a Brat post cited incorrect statistics that came from Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Members of the Liberal Women wondered who Sara James was.
It turns out James is on Brat’s payroll; in fact, she is the top recipient of his campaign money, according to data on OpenSecrets.org, the website for the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in federal politics and culls data from the Federal Election Commission. Brat’s campaign paid James $78,452 in 2015 and 2016 combined, and it has paid her $44,559 so far in 2017.
In a phone interview, Brat said James handles his social media communications and events, and for about three months last year acted as his campaign manager. She is his “entire communications arm of the campaign,” he said.
When asked whether part of her job is to refute people or argue with them on Facebook, Brat said, “Her job is to clarify issues. And put out my policy positions from my vantage point. It’s not to argue with people.”
The Liberal Women researched other interactions they had with James.
“I bet you have a coexist bumper sticker — or are you more of an antifa-type?” James wrote to a poster who had called her an “idiot.”
When Alsúin Creighton Preis, one of the Liberal Women, accused James of being a paid troll Sept. 28, James replied: “No I don’t get paid to troll wait. Gosh, wish I did!! I comment on Facebook for fun. :) I love engaging with women like you and Kasey. Because you’re so sweet and pretty and someone I’d love to hang out with. haha!!”
Members of the Liberal Women said James should have been open about her campaign job.
“As a constituent, whether I agree with him or not, I expect them to behave better than this,” Kasey Landrum, 39, of Henrico County, said of her congressman. “There needs to be some kind of level of transparency.”
When asked why she hadn’t identified herself as a campaign staff member, Brat said James is allowed to both work for his campaign and comment on social media.
She has lived in Texas for several years, where she is registered to vote, but she previously lived in Midlothian.
“She can do both. You can be both. Just because you work on a campaign doesn’t mean you don’t get to partake in the political process,” Brat said. He said James’ presence on his Facebook page is necessary to represent his views in a hostile social media environment.
Last month, James flew from Texas to Kindred Spirit Brewing in Goochland County to help Brat with a fundraiser.
In an email, James said she handles all of Brat’s social media; all of his communications on the campaign side, including email newsletters and event promotions; all of his print and digital media; all of his website; all of his video and graphics on the campaign side; and helps plan and schedule events on the campaign side.
She said she works seven days a week, including nights, and goes on Facebook to “debate people who are pushing false narratives,” even though Brat never asked her to do that.
In response to a question about why James didn’t identify herself on Facebook as a Brat campaign staff member, Mark Kelly, Brat’s chief of staff, responded by email: “Sara’s status as a paid member of Team Brat has been disclosed on multiple FEC reports. It is not now, nor has it ever been, a secret.”