A woman in New Jersey left her job after a Republican Congress member personally warned her employers about her political activity.
It’s not that Saily Avelenda was doing anything unusual; she was simply organizing as part of NJ 11th for Change, which has asked Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen to oppose President Donald Trump’s agenda.
But that was apparently enough for Frelinghuysen to intervene.
A fundraising letter to Joseph O’Dowd, a board member for the local bank that Avelenda worked for, asked for money for the 2018 campaign, claiming that national and local forces “are already hard at work to put a stop to an agenda of limited government, economic growth, stronger national security.” But by the word “local,” there was a blue asterisk — in the same blue ink as Frelinghuysen’s signature — that led to a note warning, “P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!”
Attached to the letter was a news article that quoted Avelenda. She says her boss presented her with both the letter and the news article. She was not fired, but she says she had a lot of explaining to do.
“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 was senior vice president and assistant general counsel at the bank, said political pressure due to the letter was one of the reasons she decided to leave the job.
The campaign for Frelinghuysen, who’s chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, wrote a statement to WNYC confirming the congressman’s actions: “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.”
Lawyers and ethics experts told WNYC that the letter likely won’t lead to legal trouble, since it doesn’t make any explicit threats or use congressional stationery. But the letter is certainly troubling: A congressman used his bully pulpit to effectively intimidate one of his constituents out of a job.
Read the full letter: