TRENTON — The North Jersey bank that has been accused of forcing out a vice president after a congressman outed her as being involved in a political opposition group says its workers are allowed to participate in politics as a watchdog group asks for an investigation.

Sally Avelenda told a New York radio station that U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., 11th District, attached a news story about her involvement with the group 11th for Change to a fundraising letter in March that warned about "organized forces" standing in the way of the Republican political agenda.

"One of the the ringleaders works in your bank," was handwritten on the letter with Frelinghuysen's signature. Avelenda said she felt pressured to resign.

In a statement posted on its Facebook page, the Glen Ridge-based Lakeland Bank said its 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."

The bank did not comment specifically about Avelenda's claims.

The non-partisan watchdog group Campaign for Accountability, which has targeted local as well as national figures on Tuesday requested the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate Frelinghuysen for a possible ethics violation. “The House ethics committee requires members to act in a way that ‘reflects creditably on the House.’ If trying to get someone fired for exercising her constitutional right to engage in political activity doesn’t reflect poorly on the House, what does?" CFA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said in a statement.

Avelenda on her own Facebook page on Tuesday wrote about the reaction to her story from family and friends.

"I either had an ulterior motive for telling my story (because I want to sue everyone) or I am not all that bright because I DIDN'T have an ulterior motive (because I don't want to sue everyone)," she wrote.

Avelenda has not yet responded to a message.

"The day that an elected representative attempts to bully and punish his own constituents for voicing their views is a sad day for democracy," NJ 11th for Change wrote on their Facebook page. The group wondered if the long time congressman has done this before to other opponents.

Neither Frelinghuysen nor his staff had returned a request for comment by Tuesday morning. The phones went unanswered at Frelinghuysen's Washington, D.C., and Morristown offices on Monday.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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