Ethics panel scrutinizes AOC over ‘Tax the Rich’ dress and Met Gala ensemble
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) may have accepted impermissible gifts related to her attendance at the Met Gala in 2021, when she made headlines for wearing a white dress that said “Tax the Rich” in red letters on the back.
A June 2022 OCE report and materials released by the House Ethics Committee on Thursday show frustration from vendors about payments for hair and makeup services for the event being delayed for months, as well as payments for her Met Gala ensemble and other associated costs being paid months later.
In an interview with the OCE, Ocasio-Cortez said there was “a ball that was dropped” and that it was “deeply regrettable” that thousands of dollars worth of payments were delayed. She recalled following up with a campaign staffer several times about the need to pay for the services.
While the OCE board said in a report that Ocasio-Cortez appears to have paid for the rental value of the attire and goods and services that she and her now-fiance received in connection with the event after the OCE contacted her about the matter, it unanimously voted in June 2022 to refer the matter to the House Ethics Committee, saying the congresswoman may have violated House rules, standards of conduct and federal law.
The House Ethics Committee first revealed it was looking into Ocasio-Cortez in December, but did not specify what it was probing.
Ocasio-Cortez’s legal counsel said in a letter to the Ethics Committee last week that the OCE “did identify that there were delays in paying vendors for costs associated with the Congresswoman’s attendance at the Met Gala” and that she finds the delays “unacceptable.”
“However, while regrettable, this matter definitively does not rise to the level of a violation of House Rules or of federal law,” said the letter from Ocasio-Cortez’s legal counsel David Mitrani. “Even after OCE’s exhaustive review of the Congresswoman’s personal communications, there is no evidence that she ever intended to avoid these expenses. To the contrary, the record clearly shows that the Congresswoman always understood that she had to pay for these expenses personally – and she even worked with the undersigned counsel prior to the event to ensure that she complied with all applicable ethics rules.”
The committee released the OCE complaint and associated materials on Thursday, saying it is still reviewing the matter and the ethics referral. It noted that the fact of conducting a review does not mean any violation has occurred.
According to the report, Ocasio-Cortez contacted the OCE to say that she retained counsel to ensure she complied with all ethics rules, with multiple staffers echoing that they worked to ensure compliance. A determination was made that she would pay for the attire from her personal funds.
In addition to the handbag, shoes, jewelry and “Tax the Rich” dress that Ocasio-Cortez wore from designer Brother Vellies, the OCE said her now-fiance received a bowtie, and that Ocasio-Cortez also received transportation from her home to the Carlyle Hotel and access to a ready room there, hair and makeup services, and transportation to the Met Gala from the hotel.
The Met Gala took place in September 2021, but according to the report, payments for some services were not made for months.
“Despite various efforts to address compliance concerns in advance of the Met Gala through counsel, and despite representations to the Committee regarding compliance with House rules, it appears several thousands of dollars’ worth of services may have remained unpaid absent the OCE initiating this review,” the OCE report said.
A $477.73 payment for hair services was paid in February 2022 after the agency representing the stylist threatened to file a complaint over the unpaid bill. The campaign staff member tasked with paying the bill told the OCE that the bill “fell off [her] radar” and that Ocasio-Cotez was not aware of the company’s payment demands.
An agency for a makeup stylist similarly sent emails to the campaign saying payment of $344.85 was “EXTREMELY overdue.” That bill was paid in March 2022. The campaign staffer told the OCE that other matters had taken precedence over the payments.
Invoices show that Brother Vellies invoices for the Met Gala gown, handbag, jewelry and shoe rental were revised from a total of $2,283.93 to $990.76 between Sept. 19 and Sept. 20, 2021. A campaign staffer said that she had contacted the designer to ensure the overall rental costs were correct, relaying prior discussions that the overall final rental bill would be around $1,000. Brother Vellies declined to cooperate with the OCE review to explain the price revision.
A campaign staffer did not pay the bill until March 2022, after the OCE had provided formal notice to Ocasio-Cortez of its review. The campaign staffer said she was waiting for a final invoice that she thought should have included costs of Ocasio-Cortez’s use of space at the Carlyle Hotel and transportation.
After the OCE opened the review, Ocasio-Cortez’s counsel contacted Brother Vellies to request an invoice for any additional unpaid goods and services. In April 2022, it sent an invoice for $5,579.99 for the hotel rooms, car service, shoes and the bow tie for Ocasio-Cortez’s now-fiance. That was paid in May 2022.
Ocasio-Cortez told investigators that payments were made from her personal funds.
Ocasio-Cortez’s office had nothing further to add following the release of the OCE report on Thursday, but a spokesperson said in December that the office was “confident that this matter will be dismissed,” and stressed her commitment to ethics and refusal to accept donations from lobbyists, corporations, and special interests.
Ocasio-Cortez is not the only member of the House to come under heat from ethics investigators after attending the Met Gala. Last year, the Ethics Committee revealed former Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) may have improperly solicited an invitation to the Met Gala, which her legal counsel denied.
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