Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s fundraising letter in March to Joseph O’Dowd, a board member of a local bank included a postscript identifying a bank employee who is a member of a group pressuring the Republican to stand up to Donald Trump.
As a result, Saily Avelenda, who was a senior vice president and assistant general counsel at Lakeland Bank, was questioned about her involvement with NJ 11th for Change, a group that formed after the election of Donald Trump
Avelenda and other members of NJ 11th for Change have been pushing Frelinghuysen to meet with constituents in his district and oppose Trump’s extreme agenda, which includes unconstitutional restrictions on immigration and massive tax cuts for the rich that will cost more than 25 million working class Americans their health insurance coverage.
“Needless to say, that did cause some issues at work that were difficult to overcome,” said Avelenda, a resident of West Caldwell, who resigned over the pressure she received for her political involvement.
Frelinghuysen’s campaign letter asks supporters to donate more than a year before his next election because he is under attack.
“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,” Frelinghuysen said in the letter.
A hand-written remark at the bottom of the letter sid, “P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!”
“Lakeland Bank’s Code of Ethics specifically provides that it is philosophy of Lakeland Bank to promote our employees’ full awareness and interest in civic and political responsibility such that each employee has the opportunity to support community activities or the political process in the manner that she or he desires,” said a statement posted on Facebook.
The bank did not comment on Avelenda, who no longer has a job there.
“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.”
Like many citizen groups around America, NJ 11th for Change began with a Facebook post after the Trump elected but it quickly gained more than 7,000 members who live in Frelinghuysen’s politically moderate district.
The citizens asked Frelinghuysen to hold a town hall, since the Republican congressman has not had one in four years. When their request was denied, they organized empty-chair town halls without him and members have held weekly protests at his office ever since.
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.
For the first time in decades, his reliably Republican seat is no longer considered a safe by Democratic strategists and independent political analysts.
Frelinghuysen’s family has so long been prominent in New Jersey politics, it was ranked as the seventh greatest American political dynasty by Stephen H. Hess, author of America’s Political Dynasties.
His mother was an heir to the Procter & Gamble fortune, and his paternal ancestors include numerous members of Congress and the US Senate dating all the way back to the American Revolution.
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