Watchdog Asks Ethics Office To Probe If NJ Rep. Broke Rules By Outing Activist

Bill Clark/CQPHO

A government watchdog organization on Tuesday asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to look into whether Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, broke ethics rules by exposing a local activist in a letter to her employer.

In a letter to Omar Ashmawy, the office’s staff director and chief counsel, Campaign for Accountability said that Frelinghuysen appeared to use his position “to coerce a New Jersey bank into constructively terminating an employee.”

In a March fundraising letter to a board member of a local New Jersey bank, Frelinghuysen warned of “organized forces — both national and local” working against his agenda.

“P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!” a postscript to the letter noted, written in the same ink as the congressman’s signature.

A news article attached to the letter quoted Saily Avelenda, a member of a nonpartisan group that has pressured Frelinghuysen to meet with constituents.

Avelenda formerly served as senior vice president and assistant general counsel at the bank. She told WNYC that she resigned from her position in part because of pressure she received for her political involvement, and said Frelinghuysen “used his name, used his position and used his stationery to try to punish me.”

In a news release sent to reporters, Campaign for Accountability executive director Daniel Stevens said Frelinghuysen “is ripping a page from President Trump’s playbook by trying to wreak vengeance on a political opponent.”

“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?” Stevens said. “The OCE should immediately make clear this sort of conduct is out of bounds.”