GOP lawmaker faces ethics complaint after writing letter to activist’s employer

GOP lawmaker faces ethics complaint after writing letter to activist’s employer
© Greg Nash

Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenTop House GOP appropriations staffer moves to lobbying shop Individuals with significant disabilities need hope and action Exiting lawmakers jockey for K Street perch MORE (R-N.J.) is facing an ethics complaint after targeting a local liberal activist through a fundraising letter to her employer.

The Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics on Tuesday asking for a review of whether Frelinghuysen violated House rules.

The government watchdog group noted that that the House Ethics Committee has warned lawmakers that communicating with private businesses could be construed as “pressure to take action in order to please the Member.”


“If, as it appears, Rep. Frelinghuysen used his position as one of the most powerful members of the House of Representatives to coerce a New Jersey bank into constructively terminating an employee because she exercised her First Amendment rights to oppose him politically, his conduct does not reflect creditably on the House,” the Campaign for Accountability wrote to the Office of Congressional Ethics. 

As first reported by WNYC, Frelinghuysen recently sent a fundraising letter to a board member of the activist’s employer, a local bank.

“But let’s be clear that there are organized forces — both national and local — who are already hard at work to put a stop to an agenda of limited government, economic growth, stronger national security,” the letter says.

A hand-written asterisk is marked above the word “local,” with a note on the bottom reading: “P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!”

Saily Avelenda served as a senior vice president and assistant general counsel at Lakeland Bank before resigning. She cited the pressure over her involvement with NJ 11th for Change, which formed in response to President Trump’s election and has been calling on Frelinghuysen to hold an in-person town hall in his district. 

Frelinghuysen has been holding telephone town halls but has not hosted one in person in four years.

He became chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee in January. But for the first time in years, his district is expected to be competitive in next year’s midterm elections after Trump only won it narrowly. 

A news article quoting Avelenda was attached to the letter. She told WNYC that her boss came to her with the letter and news article and asked for an explanation.

“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 told WNYC.

Frelinghuysen's office didn't immediately return a request for comment.