Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Verona’s congressman, is facing questions about his judgement today after a WNYC report that his re-election campaign sent a fundraising letter to a Lakeland Bank board member that included a hand-written note criticizing a bank employee for her involvement in a group opposing Frelinghuysen.
According to the story in WNYC, a letter on campaign stationery was sent to a Lakeland board member in March. Frelinghuysen, who has served in Congress for 22 years, is up for re-election in 2018 and may face more opposition than he has in previous campaigns. One challenger has already emerged, and others are said to be mulling a run.
Attached to the letter was a news clipping that quoted Saily Avelenda, a West Caldwell resident who has been active in NJ 11th for Change, a grassroots group that has been trying to get Frelinghuysen to hold in-person Town Hall meetings. Under Frelinghuysen’s signature on the letter was a note: “P.S.: One of the ringleaders works at your bank!”
Avelenda told WNYC that she was then asked to explain her involvement with NJ11th:
“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, who has since resigned from Lakeland, told this reporter that she was not expressly barred from political involvement as a Lakeland employee. Some companies do restrict their workers’ investment or political activities to prevent conflicts of interest. The office of New Jersey state Senator Robert Singer (R-30) confirmed that he is currently a Lakeland employee, handling business development in Ocean County. Lakeland did not return a call for comment about the Avelenda matter.
Other media outlets in New Jersey and across the country were quick to pick up the story. Frelinghuysen, as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington. Verona has been part of this district since a gerrymandering in 2012.
— Matt Friedman (@MattFriedmanNJ) May 15, 2017
Frelinghuysen’s spokesman has not returned a MyVeronaNJ email seeking comment on the matter. His campaign office sent a written statement statement to WNYC that read in part:
“The Congressman wrote a brief and innocuous note at the bottom of a personal letter in regard to information that had been reported in the media. He was in no way involved in any of the bank’s business and is unaware of any of the particulars about this employee’s status with the bank.”
You can read the full story on WNYC here.