An influential New Jersy congressman sent a letter to a board member of a local bank in March telling him that an activist who opposes him works there.

WNYC reports that the senior employee, Sally Avelenda, was grilled after Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen sent the letter highlighting her affiliation with NJ 11th for Change, a grassroots group formed after the election of Donald Trump to challenge Frelinghuysen, a Republican and 22-year incumbent.

Avelenda was a senior vice president and attorney for Lakeland Bank but resigned recently. Speaking to the radio station, she said that pressure over her political activism was one of several reasons she stepped down.

"Needless to say, that did cause some issues at work that were difficult to overcome," she said.

Frelinghuysen represents parts of Morris, Essex, Sussex and Passaic counties in northern New Jersey, where Lakeland Bank has its branches, and chairs the House Appropriations Committee. NJ 11th For Change started as a Facebook group urging the congressman to hold a town hall, emphasizing that he hasn't held one in four years, and to oppose Trump's attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The group now boasts nearly 6,000 members, and has spawned a political action committee, founded by Avelenda with Google ad honcho Jonathan Bellack. The group is friendly with the union-backed Working Families Party.

WNYC explained further:

The group has also held weekly protests at [Frelinghuysen's] office and visits to his Washington offices. Frelinghuysen has held two telephone town halls, which offer more control than an in-person event. Last week, he complained about the number of phone calls he is receiving.

“For people who have jammed our lines and made it difficult for us to meet our constituent needs, it would be nice for you to back off,” Frelinghuysen said. “I’m not suggesting people don’t have a right to speak and let their views be known, but some of this is highly orchestrated and it’s unfortunate.”

Frelinghuysen isn't up for reelection until next November, but sent a form campaign letter to supporters in March, citing "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 congressman sent one of the letters to Lakeland board member Joseph O'Dowd, who donated a total of $700 to past campaigns. At the bottom of the letter, Frelinghuysen hand-wrote, "P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!" He attached a news article quoting Avelenda.

Subsequently, Avelenda had to explain herself in a written statement to the bank's CEO, she 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 said.

O'Dowd, WNYC notes, is one of several people affiliated with Lakeland who donated to the New Jersey Bankers Association, a funder of the American Bankers Association. The national group lobbies extensively in Washington.

Frelinghuysen's campaign office wrote in a statement:

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.

His spokesman did not respond to a follow-up email asking whether he stood by the characterization of the letter as "innocuous" given that the New Oxford American Dictionary defines the word "ringleader" as meaning "a person who initiates or leads an illicit or illegal activity."

Following the publication of the WNYC report, Lakeland Bank published this statement on its Facebook page:

We recently received communications from members of our communities and customers concerning a news report involving an individual who identified herself as a former employee and noted her outside civic involvements. Lakeland Bank does not comment publicly on the status of our current or former employees.

However, as for civic and political engagement of our employees, Lakeland Bank’s Code of Ethics specifically provides that it is philosophy of Lakeland Bank to promote our employees’ full awareness and interest in civic and political responsibility such that each employee has the opportunity to support community activities or the political process in the manner that she or he desires.