An ethics watchdog claims Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen violated House rules by criticizing a local bank executive in a fundraising letter to her employer.
The Campaign for Accountability filed the complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics Tuesday, requesting an investigation into whether the New Jersey Republican violated House ethics rules by singling out the employee, a local liberal activist, in his letter to a board member of the bank.
Saily Avelenda told POLITICO that she resigned from her job at Lakeland Bank last week after meeting with her boss over the Frelinghuysen letter and feeling pressure to not publicize her membership in a local progressive group, NJ 11th for Change.
Frelinghuysen “had taken the time to find out where I worked, find a board member at my employer, it was really thought out in that regard,” Avelenda said in an interview. “I know they were put on the spot but I was a little taken aback.”
Avelenda wasn’t fired or asked to resign. But she did have to write a letter to the bank’s CEO detailing the extent of her involvement in NJ 11th for Change and was advised not to speak about or wear logos identifying the bank at the group’s events.
NJ 11thfor Change has been pressuring Frelinghuysen to hold a town hall, which he’s refused to do. In response, the members of the group have organized district events without him and gathered outside of his local office each week for “Fridays with Frelinghuysen” to call attention to his refusal to hold town halls.
Frelinghuysen’s letter, first reported by WYNC, was a form fundraising pitch to a Lakeland Bank board member.
But the powerful House Appropriations Committee chairman also wrote a personal note at the end — “P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!” — and attached an article quoting Avelenda.
“While Rep. Frelinghuysen used his campaign committee, rather than official stationary for his poison pen note, his position as a sitting member of Congress was still clear,” the Campaign for Accountability wrote to OCE.
“Therefore, if, as it appears, Rep. Frelinghuysen used his position as a member of Congress to coerce Lakeland Bank to fire Ms. Avelenda, or even merely sought to make her employment more tenuous for his personal, political benefit, he may have violated [House ethics rules].”
Frelinghuysen’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the ethics complaint.