Ethics complaint: AOC violated rules by accepting $35K gift to Met Gala

Color me skeptical that this will go anywhere in a chamber where gift-giving knows few real restrictions. Is this ethics complaint legit? It certainly seems to be, but that’s a far different question from whether fellow House members are inclined to enforce its rules, especially on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Forget for a moment AOC’s class-warrior posing while at Vogue’s elite-of-the-elite Met Gala event. The trite body art is really a secondary issue here:

Thomas Jones, founder of the American Accountability Foundation, wrote in an ethics complaint that he believes Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens, broke House rules by accepting “an impermissible gift” of free tickets to attend the annual gala, which also was attended by fellow New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney.

Although House rules allow members to accept free tickets to charity events directly from event organizers, Jones argues that the Met Gala doesn’t count because the guest list is curated by a private company, media giant Condé Nast.

“[W]hile the individual’s invitations may bear the name of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum has ceded control over the invitations to a for-profit company, specifically Condé Nast, and to its Chief Content Officer, Anna Wintour,” Jones wrote.

He wrote that “the New York Times outlines that the Met does not have control over who is invited to the event, but rather the for-profit company, is in control of who gets invited.” The Times reported that “about 400 Chosen Ones” got to attend this year.

The problem here is who gets to do the choosing, and that problem may not belong to Ocasio-Cortez alone. At least one other member of Congress attended the Met Gala, so did Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) pay her own way? Or did Vogue/Condé Nast give her a free pass valued otherwise at $35,000 too?

If so, the ethics issue might be resolved through a simple declaration, although even that might not be enough. According to the House rules on gifts and gift exceptions, Jones is correct that Vogue/Condé Nast do not count as a charity:

A charity fundraising event must meet the following criteria.

You are invited by the event organizer directly, and
The event organizer is the organization(s) doing the work to put the event on, not a monetary event sponsor or table sponsor.[92]

In this case, Vogue/Condé Nast is clearly a monetary sponsor, not the Met itself. They not only provide the funding for the event, they run the entire gala. The Met is just a passive beneficiary of the effort. Vogue clearly uses that control to promote its own brand, even to the point of controlling the “red carpet” commentary. Check the mics being held by these “reporters”:

In other words, there is ample reason for the House Ethics Committee to review this complaint seriously. Will they? I’m very certain that every member who doesn’t have aspirations of attending high-profile events to get showered with attention will take it seriously. That leaves about, oh … zero House members. Perhaps they’ll issue a slight wrist tap and remind members not to embarrass them by breaking the rules so obviously in the future, but I’d eat my hairbrush if it went any farther than that.

If anything, Anna Wintour will likely set up a charitable front to run this event next year to keep this problem from happening again. That might not be enough to technically satisfy the House rules, but in this case, all that’s necessary is juuuust enough political cover to make it a non-issue.

This still points up the central hypocrisy in AOC’s stunt at the gala. She has spent the last few years demonizing “the rich,” only to take expensive gifts from the very people she claims are tax cheats in order to rub elbows with them. Her dress should be seen as satire, especially in its clichéd and utterly simplistic sloganeering on an issue where her colleagues have instead chosen to do heavier intellectual lifting.

Finally, that’s the biggest problem with this nonsense. Some commentators tried to argue yesterday that criticism of this juvenile and hypocritical stunt are either engaging in sexism, avoiding the tax debate, or both. However, we have been having the “tax the rich” debate for decades. The 2019-20 Democratic presidential campaign was chock-full of it, where candidates offered more substantive proposals than cheap slogans. Why hasn’t Ocasio-Cortez done any heavy lifting on the policy side? She is, after all, a member of the House of Representatives. If all she can contribute as an elected representative to Congress is middle-school slogans as body art, that’s worthy of criticism. A lot of it.