The American Accountability Foundation (AAF), a nonprofit government watchdog organization, has filed an ethics complaint this week against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that alleges she violated the House of Representatives ethics rules by knowingly accepting a gift not allowed under the rules by attending the recent Met Gala in New York.
The AAF sent a letter to the House Office of Congressional Ethics asking that the office begin investigating AOC’s attendance at the Met Gala on Monday. The charity event is staged for the super-elite at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and comes with a per-ticket cost of $30,000 and up.
The letter alleges that AOC violated the “Gift Rule” of the House Rules when she accepted free admission to the event without an exemption under the rules.
The letter further provides that if the representative used funds raised by her campaign to pay for a ticket, she would have violated Federal Election Commission rules against using campaign funds for entertainment purposes.
AOC drew national attention when she appeared at the event in a designer dress with the caption “Tax the Rich” added across its backside. Many commenters have had a field day with the “meme dress,” noting the irony of displaying an anti-wealthy slogan on a dress that ordinary Americans could not afford to an event attended only by the uber-rich and most well connected.
The AAF speaks on behalf of many other Americans, curious how a public servant afforded entry into the highly exclusive occasion. The AAF president said he was prohibited from accepting even a free lunch according to ethics rules while working as a congressional staffer. Yet, somehow AOC scored a $35,000 ticket to a dinner with the power elite.
The general rule for members of Congress is that gifts are prohibited. The definition of “gift” includes anything with monetary value for which payment is not required. The rules also include “gratuities, favors, discounts, and entertainment” as prohibited gifts.
The ethics rules do have some limited exemptions for qualifying charity events. The AAF takes the position that the Met Gala is not a qualifying charity event that could make an invitation a permissible gift. The ethics rules require that an event be open to the public or “a wide range of individuals” to qualify as exempt.
AOC responded to critics this week by saying that elected officials in New York are “routinely invited” to the Met Gala because of their “responsibilities in overseeing and supporting” the “cultural institutions” located in New York City.
That sounds like an admission that an invitation is extended, considering her “oversight” power over the museum.