A government watchdog group has filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) alleging that the congresswoman violated House Ethics rules by accepting “an impermissible gift” to attend the Met Gala, TheBlaze has learned.
The American Accountability Foundation (AAF), a nonprofit organization, on Tuesday sent a letter to the House Office of Congressional Ethics requesting that an investigation be opened against the New York Democrat, who on Monday evening attended the $30,000-per-ticket elite charity event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
“Specifically, we believe Representative Ocasio-Cortez has violated clause 5 of Rule XXV of the Rules of the House of Representatives (commonly known as the Gift Rule) by accepting admission to the Met Gala, an event whose per seat costs is reported to range from $35,000 to $50,000, without having a permissible exemption to allow the acceptance of the lavish gift,” the complaint states.
“If Representative Occasio-Cortez has used campaign funds to pay for this ticket, she has also violated FEC prohibitions on campaign funds being used for entertainment purposes,” added American Accountability Foundation President Tom Jones in the complaint.
Ocasio-Cortez garnered national headlines after she appeared on the red carpet of the swanky Met Gala in a designer dress that blared, “Tax the Rich.” Some wry critics observed that the statement her dress made was out of touch, considering the exorbitant cost of attending the gala prohibits all but the rich and famous from attending.
But others, like AAF, want to know how a congresswoman who makes $174,000 annually managed to afford entrance to the exclusive event. If her tickets were free, or if they were paid for with campaign contributions, she may have violated House rules or even campaign finance laws.
“The Office of Congressional Ethics was stood up to ensure that members of Congress do not derive personal benefit by virtue of their office. When I was a congressional staffer, we were told we could not even take a $35 lunch for free due to ethics rules, yet somehow Rep. Ocasio Cortez is able to receive a $35,000 ticket to a VIP dinner and private concert with Justin Bieber,” said Jones.
“The double standard speaks for itself,” he added.
House rules prohibit any member of Congress from accepting gifts, which are defined as “something with monetary value for which you do not have to pay.”
According to the House Ethics Committee, “Gifts include gratuities, favors, discounts, entertainment, hospitality, loans, forbearances, services, training, travel expenses, in-kind contributions, advanced payments, and reimbursements after the fact.”
There are limited exceptions to the rule, the most relevant one in this case being “Free Attendance At Events,” which include certain charity events.
Responding to her critics on social media Monday, Ocasio-Cortez said that New York elected officials are “routinely invited” to the Met Gala “due to our responsibilities in overseeing and supporting the city’s cultural institutions for the public.”
She added that she was one of several public officials attending the gala.
AAF argues that because the congresswoman defined her attendance at the gala “to be part of her official activities,” receipt of her ticket as a gift must fall under one of the House rule exemptions, or else it constitutes a violation of the rules.
“AOC’s invite fails on both the widely-attended event exemption and the charitable entity exemption,” the watchdog group asserts.
House Ethics Guidance states a widely attended event must “be open to the public or to a wide range of individuals.” AAF argues the exclusive and secretive guest list, as reported by the New York Times, precludes the Met Gala from falling under this exemption.
The charitable entity exemption stipulates that a lawmaker must be directly invited by the charity event organizer. But a for-profit company, Conde Nast, oversees the invitations.
“This makes it clear that the functional control over the invitation that was extended to Representative Ocasio-Cortez was exercised not by the sponsor of the event, but rather by the agent of a for-profit company, in this case Anna Wintour and Conde Nast,” AAF argues.
Ocasio-Cortez’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.