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The Republican Party, 2017

[ 104 ] May 15, 2017 |

There are a number of potentially vulnerable Republican members of Congress whose loss I’d find not just politically salutory but emotionally satisfying. Shooting towards the top of that list with a bullet is Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11):

The most powerful congressman in New Jersey, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, wrote a fundraising letter in March to a board member of a local bank, warning him that a member of an activist group opposing the Republican worked at his bank.

The employee was questioned and criticized for her involvement in NJ 11th for Change, a group that formed after the election of Donald Trump and has been pressuring Frelinghuysen to meet with constituents in his district and oppose the Trump agenda.

“Needless to say, that did cause some issues at work that were difficult to overcome,” said Saily Avelenda of West Caldwell, New Jersey, who was a senior vice president and assistant general counsel at the bank before she resigned. She says the pressure she received over her political involvement was one of several reasons she decided to leave.

The form letter, on campaign stationery, asks Frelinghuysen’s supporters to donate two years ahead of his next election because he is under attack. “But let’s be clear that there are organized forces — both national and local — who are already hard at work to put a stop to an agenda of limited government, economic growth, stronger national security,” the letter says.

Above the word local, there’s a hand-written asterisk in the same blue ink as Frelinghuysen’s signature. At the bottom of the letter, scrawled with a pen, is the corresponding footnote: “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.

NJ-11 is trending in the wrong direction for Frelinghuysen: McCain won by 9, Romney by 5, and Trump by just 1. Let’s hope this appalling act of intimidation is successfully used against him in 2018.


Comments (104)

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  1. CP says:

    The NJGOP gave us Chris Christie. For this abomination alone, they must be made to suffer a thousand torments.

  2. Origami Isopod says:

    Shooting towards the top of that list with a bullet is Robert Frelinghuysen (NJ-11)


    Also, Christ, what an asshole.

    • Cervantes says:

      The bank president is also an asshole, BTW.

    • Lee Rudolph says:

      I’m glad to see in Wikipedia that Rodney was rejected by Princeton, “the alma mater of his father and grandfather”. This is sourced to Daniel Golden’s The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges – and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates. If anyone has a copy, it would be nice to find out why: is he really, really stupid, or was his prep school record at St. Mark’s perhaps stained in some other way? Because Frelinghuysens are not the kind of people who are supposed to get left outside those gates!

      • NonyNony says:

        The text is up at Google Books and it doesn’t say why he was rejected. The anecdote isn’t about his admission but rather about his daughter and how he supported Princeton with funding while in Congress and whether that tipped the scales for getting his daughter admitted or not.

        • Phil Perspective says:

          I bet it was just the fact that her father was a Congresscritter. I’m curious how often a sitting Congresscritter’s spawn gets rejected when applying to any Ivy League school.

          • Lee Rudolph says:

            Rodney’s own father Peter was a Congressman, for 20 years before Rodney applied and another 10 after he was rejected. Peter was a Princeton alumnus, and his wife was a Proctor & Gamble heiress.

            For Rodney not to have been admitted to Princeton in those days with that background, he must have been irremediably tainted in one way or another.

            • Tyro says:

              It wasn’t JUST his father and grandfather. His family’s legacy with Princeton dates back to the 18th century with his ancestor Frederick Frelinghuysen who served in the revolutionary war.

              He had all the right pedigrees and attended a nice New England Episcopal boarding school. Everything about him was a pipeline straight into Princeton unless something was seriously, seriously wrong

      • Mike G says:

        Reminds me of how GW Bush was rejected from University of Texas Law School. How dense do you have to be, to be a Bush rejected in cronyist Texas?

        It says a lot for GW Bush’s idiocy, and perhaps Harvard Business School’s cravenness.

  3. ThresherK says:

    Lenox MA has the Art Deco masterpiece Frelinghuysen home. I wondered if that and the NJ congresscritter Rodney Frelinghuysen are related.

    They are. Rodney Frelinghuysen isn’t doing his family name any favors.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      The Frelinghuysens is probably the last political family in America whose roots go back to the American Revolution, so it almost certainly is related.

      • Bruce Vail says:

        Robert Livingston was a Republican congressman from La. in the 80s and 90s and is a high-powered lobbyist today (The Livingston Group). He is descended from the Livingstons of NY, who were powerful landowners and political figures going back to the Colonial era.

      • Dennis Orphen says:

        To enumerate rather than contradict, Nick Fish was a Portland, OR city councilman for awhile. I’m not motivated to find out what he’s doing now. Eric Sten, maybe, but not Nick, although I don’t have anything against him.

  4. Dennis Orphen says:

    The republican party is a criminal organization. I’m not a lawyer (can there be any such thing when there is no rule of law, only a clumsy facade?) but that sounds like extortion (de facto if not technically de jure). And without bothering to google, I believe extortion is a crime.

    • Just_Dropping_By says:

      How is it extortion? Frelinghuysen didn’t threaten to injure the board member or the bank in some manner if Avelenda wasn’t fired.

      • Dennis Orphen says:

        Awfully nice blog you people have here. It would be a real shame if something were to happen to it. I'll be back around this time next Monday.

        (felt I needed to use the code tags, CYA)

        ETA: Sometimes a chocolate starfish is neither chocolate nor a starfish (I’m not referring to you, btw, just to clarify my often misunderstood codes)

    • NewishLawyer says:

      The scandal here is what is legal. There are only a few states that don’t allow employers to take adverse action because of lawful out-of-work activity.

      So political activity is not protected under many state employment discrimination laws.

  5. C.V. Danes says:

    Let’s hope this appalling act of intimidation is successfully used against him in 2018.

    Let’s also hope that by 2018 anyone who is not a registered Republican can still vote.

    • MyNameIsZweig says:

      Hell, if I have to register as a Republican to vote in 2018, I’ll do it. I’m not above lying about that.

      As long as there are still non-Republicans to vote for, anyway …

      • so-in-so says:

        The last sentence is key.

        Well, and that they keep “secret ballots”. Or ballots at all. “We total the voters registered by party, saves time and expense. You are only allowed to register for this party…”

        • Dennis Orphen says:

          Secret ballot has gotta go. Yeah, I know you’ll all say but this example here is a clear cut case of why we need it. I’ll elaborate on why I feel the way I do (via code (meta right there) and analogy, of course) later, if anyone cares to either discuss or debate. But right now, I’ve got work to do.

  6. NeonTrotsky says:

    There should really be employment protections for political speech

    • Cash & Cable says:

      On that front, this situation is kinda fascinating. Obviously there’s no First Amendment issue if a private employer takes the initiative to identify a non-unionized political activist in his workplace and then fires her. But what if a Congressman fingers the activist to the employer? For the sake of this hypothetical, let’s pretend the activist was mentioned by name and was subsequently fired. Wouldn’t there be at least a colorable First Amendment claim in that instance?

      • Murc says:

        Wouldn’t there be at least a colorable First Amendment claim in that instance?

        Sadly there is not. Freedom of speech and association mostly only protect you from the state, not from other forms of retaliation.

        Annoyingly, freedom of religion is afforded much more encompassing protections. Your workplace must accommodate your religious beliefs, but has no similar obligation to accommodate your speech rights.

        You can’t be fired for being a Catholic, but you can be fired for being a Democrat.

        • Cash & Cable says:

          “Freedom of speech and association mostly only protect you from the state, not from other forms of retaliation.”

          I noted that in my second sentence above. But if a Congressman is a but-for cause of your termination, I think there’s a viable argument here about state action (even if I’m not sure what the remedy would look like).

        • DamnYankees says:

          Sadly there is not. Freedom of speech and association mostly only protect you from the state, not from other forms of retaliation.

          But…he’s a Congressman. This is state action.

          • Murc says:

            I’m not sure it is?

            Like, if Andrew Cuomo were to push me into traffic, can I bring suit against the State of New York or the Office of the Governor? I don’t think I can unless he were acting specifically in his role as Governor when he did that.

            • DamnYankees says:

              Sure, but this article says that Freylinguysnymynm did this in a fundraising letter. I don’t see how he did this as anything other than in his capacity as a politician.

              • ASV says:

                His fundraising activity is very specifically sectioned off from his member of Congress activity, or at least if it’s not, that’s the more compelling bad act.

            • tsam says:

              Yeah, I don’t see how the state is liable for his crimes, unless collusion/conspiracy with a state entity could be demonstrated.

              • Craigo says:

                Yeah, the only possible avenue I can see is some sort of NJ/fed anticorruption statute we’re overlooking. I just hope she’s speaking to an attorney.

          • NonyNony says:

            The assertion in the stories around this is that since it was done by his campaign office and not his official congressional office this is the act of a private citizen rather than an official act of the state.

            I’m not a lawyer, so it sounds to me like weasel words to let a powerful guy get away with pushing people around. But there may be an important distinction there that I’m missing.

          • Morse Code for J says:

            If she had been fired by her bank, the adverse employment action still comes from the bank, however the bank arrived at its decision. And she resigned, amid circumstances that are not protected by any law (e.g., off-duty political activism making a private employer nervous about an at-will employee). It’s shitty, but there is no liability here for the bank, much less the congressman.

            • Craigo says:

              I’d note that resignation doesn’t preclude an employment action if the employer’s actions constituted constructive dismissal. But it doesn’t appear that’s the case here, from the limited information we have.

    • Murc says:

      There should be employment protections for all legal speech and conduct, period.

      I believe pretty strongly that as long as we require people to work in order to live, their employment should not be contingent on how they live. What you do on your own time should, as long as it doesn’t result in criminal charges, be (legally) none of your employers business, and they should not only be barred from retaliating, but from questioning you about it in the first place.

      • Jonny Scrum-half says:

        Just to push-back on your thoughts, what if I’m a Jewish owner of a small business, and I learn that one of my employees spends his or her free time attending Nazi rallies? Your framework would make that legally none of my business. I’m not sure that could work.

        • Murc says:

          I’m not sure that could work.

          How not?

          I mean, you’re employing a dirtbag, but the extent to which your employees are dirtbags is none of your business as long as they’re not dirtbags on the clock.

          • Patick Spens says:

            I’m generally opposed to firing people for being racist/homophobic off the clock, but I don’t think employers should be forced to sign paychecks for people who want to put them in camps.

          • Jonny Scrum-half says:

            Not everyone can compartmentalize that easily. I don’t think that it’s fair or wise to legally require employers to continue to employ someone who acts (even if it’s just off-the-job) in ways that indicate that he/she thinks that it was okay that the employer’s ancestors were murdered or enslaved or the like.

            • so-in-so says:

              Some Christianist will all too happy to claim that supporting PP is worse, since actual “babies” are being eliminated right now, while the Nazi’s were killing people 75 years ago.

              Then some CSA cos-Player will get on about Yankee’s and Sherman and Haiti. So yeah, let’s leave at if you keep it on your own time and don’t bring disrepute to the company, there should be nothing the employer can do (unless he is aware of illegality). Do you think there are not lots of small companies happy to fire you over your vote?

              • Lurking Canadian says:

                You were doing great until you said “don’t bring disrepute to the company”. That seems to leave a giant loophole labeled “But it IS disreputable to agitate for the [X] of [Y}!” and we’re back where we started.

        • MyNameIsZweig says:

          I’m not sure you can just carve out exceptions for Nazi sympathizers like that, as odious as that is.

          • Murc says:

            It’s one of the classic conundrums.

            Basically, when it comes to things like this, your options are “protect everybody,” “protect nobody,” and “trust the government to determine which people are worthy of protection and which are not.”

            I personally will pick the first one, every time.

            • gilby says:

              Whichever one is picked, isn’t the third option what we actually in fact end up with? Is it possible to actually get either of the first two options?

              • Lurker says:

                In Europe, most countries have quite stringent limitations on permissible grounds for firing. Political activity is not one of them. For example, the Finnish Constitution states flatly: “No one shall be fired from their employment but for a cause enumerated in an Act of Parliament.”

                Generally, European human rights law protects you not only against the state but also against fellow citizens. This tradition is particularly strong in Nordic Countries. Especially in Sweden and Finland, freedom has, for centuries, been seen as freedom from interference by elites between you and the state. The state is the one providing you freedom from private parties, not the enemy.

                • Redwood Rhiadra says:

                  Except, of course, that European human rights law DOESN’T actually have the kind of absolute freedom of speech Murc advocates. Notably, using Nazi symbols or otherwise promoting Naziism (by name) is actually illegal in many European countries.

            • Little Chak says:

              It feels to me like there has to be some way to set an objective standard that differentiates between not being allowed to fire someone for believing that everyone of your religion/gender/skin color/sexual orientation/etc. are responsible for all of the world’s problems, and should be exterminated; versus not being allowed to fire someone for being a Democrat/Republican/Libertarian/etc., and outspoken about it.

              I would think there would have to be some sort of “reasonable person” test when it comes to “does the employer have a legitimate reason to feel in personal danger”?

              Let’s say we have a Muslim, employed by a Jewish person, who is revealed to be saying and supporting the same sort of exterminationist things about Jews; or who is employed by a Christian and found to be cheering on (but not directly involved in) beheadings of Christians online. Do you honestly believe the ACLU would have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning such a case?

              And if that is our current reality, wouldn’t the prudent action be to set clear boundaries of what constitutes a reasonable fear of harm for an employer, rather than to say that no fear of harm, no matter how justified, can justify firing an employee, and that employers must accept any risk?

              Even if we could say that “significant risk of being murdered by an employee or someone strongly affiliated with the employee” is just something that “comes with the territory” of running a business, I don’t think there’s any way that would be be applied equally.

              I think there is a reasonable case to be made that employment discrimination law should not cover as much speech as the first amendment does.

        • Dennis Orphen says:

          In response to all the comments nested above, and speaking with quite a bit of experience in these matters:

          Not all actions are fireable offenses. Not all fireable offenses result in termination. But if your skating on thin ice for non-fireable reasons, expect to fired as soon as you commit a fireable offense, and expect someone to be watching you 24/7/365 until you do.

          Somewhat off topic Orphenology: The person who thinks they can’t be fired usually is because they start acting like it. The person who thinks they might be fired won’t be fired if they start (or are already) acting like it.

  7. D.N. Nation says:

    Yeah but the IRS appropriately went after Tea Party groups posing as non-political, so both sides.

  8. brewmn says:

    Every article on this states matter-of-factly that Freylinghuysen hasn’t broken any laws. But isn’t this a pretty clear civil rights violation by a government official?

    • djw says:

      That doesn’t seem obvious to me–how so?

    • Crusty says:

      Well, the government official isn’t the one who did the firing, so no. Rather its just first class ass-holery, or worse.

      If I were the employee’s attorney, which I am not, I would have advised her to stay and be fired, not to resign.

      • brewmn says:

        As noted above, I think an implied threat by an elected congressman in his official (or quasi-official, i.e. fundraising) capacities at least raises the question.

        And, if his actions aren’t criminal, I still think a civil rights lawsuit might result in at least some discomfort (and additional negative publicity) for our esteemed representative.

        • Crusty says:

          The esteemed representative freely communicated publicly available information to a concerned constituent. No dice.

          • Dennis Orphen says:

            My next door neighbor has a lot of cash and other liquid valuables in the unlocked top drawer of their desk in the spare bedroom. The back door is always unlocked, there is no security system or dogs, and nobody will be home from 4pm until around midnight this Thursday.

            Submitted for your consideration.

    • Craigo says:

      Can you explain what civil right was violated? New Jersey, like virtually all states, is at-will employment and an employee can be terminated for any reason that isn’t specifically prohibited, political activity not being among them.

      • NewishLawyer says:

        There is a novel question raised above about whether this infringes on the First Amendment because the bank only did this because a sitting Congressmen sent a fundraising letter.

        I did well in Constitutional law but this strikes me as a very tricky issue with lots of questions. Is a Congresscritter sending a fundraising letter still a state actor or a private actor? Wouldn’t the Congress critter be liable and for what damages?

        • Craigo says:

          That’s a good question. I don’t know how a court would rule but I don’t think the case would really turn on that question one way or the other.

          That is, if the employer’s actions are tortious then the congressman could be liable regardless of his status as a state or private actor; and if they are not tortious, then there’s no liability for his status to affect.

        • burnspbesq says:

          You could probably sign a complaint without exposing yourself to the risk of being sanctioned, but you’re headed for an appellate court before you can make your points, because as I understand the current state of the law, a court of first instance will probably rubber-stamp the other side’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

  9. howard says:

    I’m impressed to learn what freylinghuysen thinks the GOP agenda is, since nothing they have done since trump was inaugurated has met any of those 3 objectives.

  10. tsam says:

    I want to know how this prick came across Avelenda’s name and employment information. It could have been as simple as a Facebook post, but could have been a lot of other things.

    • MaxUtility says:

      Politicians routinely direct staff to develop lists of groups that oppose them, compile membership lists, and assemble dossiers on key members, etc. If you are involved in any activist group, particularly one that is focusing on specific pols or elections, you should assume that someone in that organization is a mole. If your group does any activity on a “public” forum like FB, the pol’s staff are monitoring, etc.

      Generally that information is used to find material useful in discrediting that group or individuals. They don’t typically target individuals like this however. At least not this blatantly. Both for reasons of bad optics and because directly attacking your opponents does not generally make them give up their efforts…

    • Just_Dropping_By says:

      Saily Avelenda allowed herself to be identified in a Politico article not just by her full name but as a “local bank executive”: Given that plus her uncommon name, it probably didn’t require an NSA black ops team to figure out where she worked.

      • “allowed herself”? Do you know that she was given a choice of how to identify herself?

        • Just_Dropping_By says:

          The Politico article makes it sound like she spoke directly to the reporter. And, in my experience, reporters ask their interview subjects what their jobs are rather that interviewing people and then going out and looking up what their jobs are (with perhaps an exception where the interview subject makes some extraordinary claim). Avelenda also doesn’t appear to be claiming she was “outed” by the reporter who quoted her or even that she was surprised to see she was quoted in the article.

    • fd2 says:

      Because the GOP spent so much time dismissing the town halls as full of “paid agitators from outside”, it’s become common practice (in NJ, anyway, and almost certainly elsewhere) to sign in with your name and zip code to demonstrate that you are a constituent. This is the first example of how the GOP is reacting to that. I suspect strongly it will not be the last.

  11. MPAVictoria says:

    Stuff like this is why I don’t comment on politics on the internet under my real name. I have people I need to take care of and losing my job would shortly end with my being unable to do that.

    • cleek says:


      i’ve actually had an interviewer ask me about comments i made on blogs – someone in the company knew me personally and they found some comments i had made under a not-very-obscure nym. and that was the end of that nym.

      now, i don’t tell anyone IRL about ‘cleek’

      • SatanicPanic says:

        You don’t have “invented one of the more famous internet laws” on your Tinder profile? I don’t believe it

        • cleek says:

          i don’t even think my wife knows about my law. i keep hoping she’ll learn about it from Sam Bee or Colbert or Trevor Noah while we’re chillin on the couch. and i’ll be all like “yeah, baby. see! i can be funny!” – until the wingnut death threats start rolling in.

          • SatanicPanic says:

            Both for your sake and for the sake of my faith in some human decency I’d like to think they’ll be like “ok you got us” and let it go at that. They’re not even trying to hide their adherence to it anymore.

            • NonyNony says:

              Oh no. Cleek’s Law pretty much says that if they find you calling them out on adhering to Cleek’s Law they have to come back with denials. And insults.

              An “okay you got us” is the antithesis of the behavior you get from following Cleek’s Law.

    • Craigo says:

      Same. My current employers are actually very friendly to my out-of-office activities, as long as they’re pseudonymous or anonymous. Not all of our clients would feel the same way.

    • Dennis Orphen says:

      Same here of course, although it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out who I am by reading all my comments and doing some meatspace legwork alone. However, one thing that really helps maintain anonymity, in both meatspace and cyberspace, is not having a facebook account. Similar to how something isn’t real if it isn’t on television in the minds of many people a person doesn’t exist if they aren’t on facebook. Also, the ‘Trading Places getting through airport security’ methodology often works in meatspace in a variety of situations.

      I had a facebook account for about 36 hours about 8 years ago. It took less than that time to realize what a bad idea that was, so I killed it as dead as I could at the time. About two weeks ago, it reactivated itself. I wouldn’t have even known if I didn’t decide to check the inboxes of all my old email addresses that I didn’t kill, where I found emailed status updates of the one person I friended at that time who still had an active account. Naturally, I went to an anonynmous, secure device and killed it again. But like Dracula (**** the Impaler), I’m sure the demon will rise again at some future date, as the beast has not been decapitated, burnt and had the ashes scattered to the four winds (and even that won’t be enough, although it slows the beast down a little).

  12. jaake says:

    Closely related: Does anybody have advice on how best to strategically donate money to the cause of Republicans losing as much as possible in 2018? Is there a better place to throw money than the DCCC? I realize this is precisely their mission, but I’m unsure whether they’re the best at it. (Not to be read as: “I suspect they’re bad it”. I genuinely just don’t know).

  13. Jordan says:

    I hope so too, but there are several jersey congressional districts where clinton got *way* more votes than did the democratic opponent. Frelinghuysen, for example, won 58 to 39.

    Maybe the resistance changes that, maybe the democrats can come up with a better candidate. I sure hope so! (I live in another of these districts).

    • randy khan says:

      I think some of that probably is a combination of not great candidates and the usual incumbent advantages. In 2018, being an R incumbent may not be much of an advantage.

      • Jordan says:

        I certainly hope so (and I’m sure its true to some extent). But I worry that the fact they ran so far ahead of Trump might mean they are somewhat isolated from Trump negatives, but thats just a guess.

        • Craigo says:

          In 2016, Frelinghuysen’s opponent seems to be a guy whose most prominent political experience was as a local school board member…15 years earlier. A decent candidate with some cash and a tailwind should be able to give him a good race.

          • Jordan says:

            I am quite sure thats true. Unless Norcross cares, though, we’d need multiple strong candidates independent from the NJ dem establishment. I mean I hope thats true (no way NJ should be a 7-6 split), but …

  14. randy khan says:

    First, he must really be scared about 2018. So that’s good.

    Second, that’s just shameful. (Not that I think too many Republican politicians have much shame.)

  15. billcoop4 says:

    I’ve met Rodney a few times on-and-off since working for Leanna Brown’s campaign for State Senate in NJ in 1983–back when I was a Morris County Congenital Republican.

    Leanna was Rodney’s nemesis–a strong, intelligent woman (he has long been none of these). He’s always been a gutless wretch; he’s never stuck his neck out for anyone. She was a Smith College woman, while he’s a Hobart boy.

    The part of my identity which attends to my descent from the folks on Mayflower and Arabella has long been puzzled why a Frelinghuysen, a member of one of the oldest families in the Republic, would deign to associate with the parvenues and trash of the modern GOP. But breaking from them would require Rodney to display courage.

    That’ll never happen.

  16. Linnaeus says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but this looks like a case of “political correctness’.

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