May 15, 2017

New Jersey congressman reportedly called out opposing activist in letter to boss

Politics Congress
Rodney Frelinghuysen ./(AP Photo

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., listens at Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 15, 2011.

A New Jersey congressman noted on a fundraising letter to a supporter that one of his employees was among the "ringleaders" opposing him, WNYC's Matt Katz reports.

In the form letter sent in March to Joseph O'Dowd, a Lakeland Bank board member, U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-11th, wrote that there are forces "already hard at work to put a stop to an agenda of limited government, economic growth, stronger national security."

An asterisk is put over the sentence, and handwritten at the bottom of the letter is: “P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!” O'Dowd has donated $700 to Frelinghuysen during previous elections.

The footnote was directed at Saily Avelenda, of West Caldwell, who has been active in a group called NJ 11th for Change, which has pressured Frelinghuysen to meet with his constituents since the election of Donald Trump.

Caldwell told WNYC the letter caused issues at work and that she was pressured because of her politician activism, eventually leading to her resigning. 

A legal expert told Katz that the letter could pose a political problem, but in order for it to be illegal, it would have had to make a direct threat on congressional stationary, not a campaign letter, or the bank would have had to have pending business with one of Frelinghuysen's committees.

In response to the letter, Frelinghuysen's campaign provided the following statement to WNYC:

“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.”

Read Katz's full report here.