Republican Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) appears to have targeted a constituent who is part of the grassroots NJ 11th for Change group. Like other groups which sprung up nationwide after Donald Trump’s election, the group is comprised of local activists working to hold their elected officials accountable. In particular, NJ 11th for Change was pressuring Frelinghuysen to hold a town hall, something WNYC notes he hasn't done in four long years. Apparently fed up with the efforts of the group, Frelinghuysen sent a fundraising letter to supporters, asking them to help him fend off liberal attacks, and made a special handwritten notation in a letter to Joseph O’Dowd, a board member of Lakeland Bank. The handwritten note at the bottom of the letter to O’Dowd, who has made campaign contributions to Frelinghuysen, said “P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!”
The employee, Lakeland Bank’s senior vice president and assistant general counsel Saily Avelenda, was called into explain. From WNYC:
Attached to the letter was a news article that quoted Avelenda. She says her boss presented her with both the letter and the news article. She was not fired, but she says she had a lot of explaining to do.
“I had to write a statement to my CEO, and at my level as an assistant general counsel and a senior vice president, at this employer it was not something that I expected,” Avelenda said. “I thought my Congressman put them in a situation, and put me in a really bad situation as the constituent, and used his name, used his position and used his stationery to try to punish me.”
Avelenda ended up resigning from Lakeland Bank. It bears noting Frelinghuysen is one of the most powerful members of Congress.
Frelinghuysen is the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, widely considered one of the most powerful positions in Congress because all funding decisions for the entire federal government now run through him. And for the first time in many years, his moderate district is no longer considered a safe Republican seat by the national Democratic Party. Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for the non-partisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), says the letter is unusual and noteworthy because members of Congress don’t usually turn to businesses in their district to do damage to their political opponents.
“It’s certainly troubling," Libowitz said. "Whether or not it breaks a criminal statute is one issue, but the very clear issue is that it appears that a member of Congress might be using his power to threaten someone’s employment because of their political activities.”
Comments are closed on this story.