Ethics complaint targets Frelinghuysen

Rodney Frelinghuysen hugs Chris Christie, in this file photo.

The Campaign for Accountability (CfA) asked the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to investigate whether Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, violated ethics rules when he caused a bank employee to lose her job for engaging in political activity.

Frelinghuysen told an executive at Lakeland Bank in New Jersey that one of the bank’s employees is a member of a citizens group that has been calling on the congressman to hold public meetings to answer questions about what’s going on in Washington.

Read the complaint here.

CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens stated, “The House ethics committee requires members to act in a way that ‘reflects creditably on the House.’ If trying to get someone fired for exercising her constitutional right to engage in political activity doesn’t reflect poorly on the House, what does?”

WNYC reported that in March, Frelinghuysen, sent a fundraising appeal to bank board member Joseph O’Dowd, advising him that Senior Vice President and Assistant General Counsel Saily Avelenda participated in an activist group that opposed him.

The letter from Frelinghuysen’s campaign committee explained that contributions were needed because “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.”

A handwritten asterisk appeared over the word local and at the bottom of the letter, a handwritten note, in the same ink and matching the congressman’s signature, read “P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!”

Attached to the letter was a copy of a news article quoting Avelenda, a member of NJ 11th for Change, a grassroots, nonpartisan citizens group that has been urging Frelinghuysen to meet with constituents and oppose President Trump’s agenda.

Among the issues that concern those residents are Frelinghuysen’s votes to make it easier for mentally ill people to purchase guns, permit coal-mining companies to pollute streams, stop disclosure of corporate bribes to foreign governments, and cripple regulation of Wall Street financial firms.

Avelenda’s supervisor confronted her with the letter, required her to provide a written explanation to the bank’s CEO about her activities and to declare herself a friend of the bank.

“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 stationary to try to punish me,” said Avelenda, who is no longer employed by the bank.

Lakeland Bank’s Code of Ethics specifically encourages employees to engage in political activities, demonstrating that the bank reprimanded Avelenda to placate the congressman.

The ethics complaint asks OCE to investigate whether the congressman engaged in wrongful interference with Avelenda’s business relations, whether he misused his office for the prospect of political gain, and whether he violated the rule requiring members to act in a manner that reflects creditably on the House.

“Rep. Frelinghuysen is ripping a page from President Trump’s playbook by trying to wreak vengeance on a political opponent,” said Stevens. “The OCE should immediately make clear this sort of conduct is out of bounds.”

Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.

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