The House Committee on Ethics announced on Wednesday that Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is under investigation for a potential ethics violation.
In a press release, the Committee stated that the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) referred the matter to them on June 23, 2022, the same day it received an OCE referral regarding fellow New York Democrat Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney.
“The Committee notes that the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension and the name of the subject of the matter, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee,” the panel said.
The investigation was launched by acting committee chairwoman Susan Wild (D-Pa.) and acting ranking member Michael Guest (R-Miss.).
The committee said that it plans to “announce its course of action in this matter following its organizational meeting and adoption of Committee Rules in the 118th Congress.”
In a statement provided to Forbes, an AOC spokesperson said: “The Congresswoman has always taken ethics incredibly seriously, refusing any donations from lobbyists, corporations, or other special interests.”
It was not immediately clear what the ethics investigation was about, but in September of last year, three watchdog groups hit AOC with ethics complaints after she attended the Met Gala in a “Tax the Rich” dress. Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Rep. Maloney also attended the annual event, which was co-chaired by VOGUE Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour.
“New York elected officials are routinely invited to and attend the Met due to our responsibilities in overseeing and supporting the city’s cultural institutions for the public,” she responded to critics at the time. “I was one of several in attendance in this evening.”
The American Accountability Foundation (AAF), the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), and the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) asked the OCE to open an ethics investigation into Ocasio-Cortez and whether she had violated the House’s gift rule or violated any campaign finance laws when she attended the gala wearing “borrowed” designer clothes and jewelry.
As Fox News noted at the time, house rules do allow members to accept free tickets to charity events directly from event organizers, and AOC and her boyfriend Riley Roberts were directly invited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
However, the NLPC argued that “it is the table sponsor who is gifting or underwriting a coveted seat to AOC at the Gala.”
The NLPC added, “if the table where AOC sat was one paid for by one of [the] corporations attending the event, such as Instagram or Facebook, AOC has received a prohibited gift from the corporation that also lobbies Congress.”
The NLPC complaint also alleged that AOC’s borrowed white Brother Vellies “Tax the Rich” gown worn constituted an impermissible gift because it was “directly related to AOC’s ‘position with the House’ as a highly visible and controversial Member.”
“If AOC had not been a Member, she would not have been invited to the Gala,” the document read, “and even if she would have been invited as a private citizen, the designer would not have made a special dress for her to wear at the event.”
In its September 2021 complaint, the AAF said: “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.”
FACT said in its complaint: “The gift rule for members of Congress is very clear and is in place for good reason. Members simply cannot accept anything of value that isn’t on the short list of permitted items,”
FACT executive director Kendra Arnold said in a statement. “This is a case where the member’s own words should trigger an investigation—not only did she state that she did not pay for an item, she also implied that she was given the ticket because of her ‘responsibilities in overseeing’ the gift-giver. This entire situation is exactly what the House’s gift rule is designed to prevent.”
According to the Washington Free Beacon, Ocasio-Cortez did not report receiving any gifts connected to her attendance at the Met Gala in her 2021 financial disclosure, which was submitted nearly a month past the deadline.
In August, AOC’s spokeswoman openly admitted that the congresswoman was flouting financial disclosure rules by failing to report her 2021 disclosure by the Aug. 13 deadline.
She finally filed the disclosure on Sept. 12, one day before she would have been fined.