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Group seeks probe into congressman over note to critic’s job

FILE - In this March 13, 2014, file photo, U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, left, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, shakes hands with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, prior to Hagel's testimony on the Defense Department's fiscal 2015 budget on Capitol Hill in Washington. Saily Avelenda, a New Jersey woman who joined a group urging Frelinghuysen to distance himself from President Donald Trump's policies, says she quit her job at Lakeland Bank after Frelinghuysen's fundraising letter to the bank included a handwritten note saying a "ringleader" of the protest movement worked there, Monday, May 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A nonpartisan watchdog group asked Tuesday that officials determine if a New Jersey congressman violated House ethics rules when he notified a bank board member that an employee had joined a group critical of him and President Donald Trump’s policies.

The Campaign for Accountability asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Saily Avelenda says Frelinghuysen included a handwritten note on a letter to a Lakeland Bank board member that said a “ringleader” of the protest movement worked there. Avelenda says she wasn’t asked to resign but was uncomfortable about being confronted over her outside activities and ended up quitting her job.

Frelinghuysen’s campaign office has said he wrote a “brief and innocuous note.”

Avelenda is part of the group NJ 11th For Change, which refers to Frelinghuysen’s district number. The group has criticized Frelinghuysen for not holding in-person town hall meetings to discuss issues, including the Republican-crafted health care plan.

Lakeland Bank has not returned a message seeking comment. Lakeland has about 50 branches in New Jersey and one in New York state.

In a tweet, the company said it wouldn’t comment on the status of a current or former employee but said every bank employee has “the opportunity to support community activities or the political process in the manner that he or she desires.”

Avelenda, 44, said she was born in the United States to Cuban exiles who vote Republican. She said her mother was “livid” when she heard about the letter. She said she blames Frelinghuysen for putting the bank “in the middle.”

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