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Met Gala getup gets ethics review for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

For several months after the event, the New York Democrat did not pay for a dress, a handbag, shoes, jewelry and more, report states

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., attends the Met Gala in New York City in September 2021.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., attends the Met Gala in New York City in September 2021. (Ray Tamarra/GC Images)

The House Ethics Committee published findings Thursday from an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on allegations she failed to pay in a timely manner for rental clothes, accessories and services related to her attendance at the 2021 Met Gala.

The OCE report states the New York Democrat may have “accepted impermissible gifts” in connection with the September 2021 event in violation of House rules, standards of conduct and federal law.

The Ethics Committee said Thursday that it would conduct a further review of the referral from the OCE and noted that action does not indicate that any violation has occurred or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.

Ocasio-Cortez wore a custom Brother Vellies white dress with the phrase “Tax the Rich” written in red across the back — a wardrobe choice that provoked the ire of many Republicans and some progressives even before an ethics investigation began.

She paid for the couture dress, a handbag, shoes and jewelry, as well as hair, makeup, transportation and ready-room service months after the event, only after her campaign received threats from vendors and was notified of the OCE’s investigation, the report found. Ocasio-Cortez’s fiance, Riley Roberts, also attended the gala and received a bowtie and shoes.

“But for the OCE opening this review, it appears that Rep. Ocasio-Cortez may not have paid for several thousands of dollars’ worth of goods and services provided to her,” the report states.

David Mitrani, counsel for Ocasio-Cortez, wrote in a Feb. 27 statement also released Thursday by the Ethics Committee that the findings were “regrettable” but didn’t rise to the level of an official breach.

“Though no Ethics violation has been found, the Office of Congressional Ethics (“OCE”) did identify that there were delays in paying vendors for costs associated with the Congresswoman’s attendance at the Met Gala,” Mitrani wrote.

“The Congresswoman finds these delays unacceptable, and she has taken several steps to ensure nothing of this nature will ever happen again,” Mitrani wrote.

The OCE, which is run by appointees and employs investigators, can make recommendations to the Ethics Committee, which is composed of House members and has the authority to punish colleagues.

It opened its investigation into Ocasio-Cortez in February 2022 and voted unanimously in June 2022 to refer the complaint against the New York Democrat to the House Ethics Committee.

Reps. Michael Guest, R-Miss., and Susan Wild, D-Pa., who lead the committee, announced the investigation into Ocasio-Cortez in December but did not reveal the subject of the inquiry.

According to the OCE’s findings, Ocasio-Cortez was wary of ethical issues related to her attendance of the event and retained counsel ahead of time.

In response to “common, compliance related outreach” undertaken by the OCE several days after the event, that council responded in writing that Ocasio-Cortez’s attendance was permissible because the gala is a charity event and she planned to personally pay for the gifts and services associated with the Met Gala (as opposed to using campaign or official funds), according to the report.

Ocasio-Cortez appointed a campaign staffer — who is not named in the report — to facilitate those payments.

That staffer listed rejected payments, missed emails and confusion over the specifics of certain invoices as causes that contributed to delays, according to the OCE.

Despite repeated requests for payment from two separate stylists who did Ocasio-Cortez’s hair and makeup, those bills weren’t settled until Feb. 24, 2022, and March 16, 2022. Those payments came after the OCE first made contact with the congresswoman’s staff about the review on Feb. 22, 2022, according to OCE findings.

A campaign staffer made a $990.77 payment for the dress, shoes, handbag and jewelry to Brother Vellies in March 2022, the OCE report states. A second, $5,579.99 payment to Brother Vellies, covering transportation, hotel rooms in which Ocasio-Cortez got ready, Roberts’ shoes and bow tie, was made on May 10.

Ocasio-Cortez told investigators “there was a ball that was dropped,” and she described the situation as “deeply regrettable,” according to the report.

She is not the first lawmaker to run into an ethics investigation related to the Met Gala. The OCE, in a report released in November, found that former Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., “may have improperly solicited or accepted impermissible gifts” by pressing the Metropolitan Museum of Art to invite her to the gala.

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