Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for her participation in the 2021 Met Gala, after allegedly violating House rules by accepting impermissible gifts.
Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat who represents neighborhoods in Queens and the Bronx, made headlines when she attended the event in a dress reading “tax the rich.” Now, the dress is at the center of the committee’s investigation, according to a report from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) released March 2 which details how Ocasio-Cortez also received accessories, transportation and hotel rooms in connection with the event.
The congresswoman is just the latest Met Gala attendee to face issues stemming from the annual fundraising event, which has become increasingly lucrative and star-studded, raising a record $17.4 million in 2022.
In November, the House Ethics Committee began an investigation into allegations former Rep. Carolyn Maloney broke House rules by soliciting an invitation to the 2016 Met Gala.
According to an OCE report, Maloney allegedly made a call to Emily Rafferty, former Met president, after learning she wasn’t invited to the event. Maloney, a Democrat who represented Manhattan’s Upper East Side and retired in 2023, claimed she was merely expressing confusion about her invitation status and denied the allegations.
It’s not only politicians receiving backlash for their participation in the event. At the most recent Met Gala in 2022, Kim Kardashian wore an original dress made for Marilyn Monroe, prompting criticism from conservators that the historic outfit didn’t fit properly and has since been permanently damaged.
And in 2017, after a number of Met Gala attendees including designer Marc Jacobs and actress Dakota Johnson took pictures of themselves smoking in the Met’s bathrooms, museum donors and board members raised concerns about potential smoke damage to the museum’s artwork. Two years earlier, attendees such as actresses Sarah Jessica Parker and Emma Roberts were criticized for wearing culturally insensitive or stereotypical outfits relating to the gala’s theme of “China: Through the Looking Glass.”
Founded in 1948 to raise money for the Met’s Costume Institute
The annual gala was first founded in 1948 as a way to raise money for the Costume Institute, which merged with the Metropolitan Museum of Art two years prior. It was initially perceived as “an award ceremony or fancy dinner, it wasn’t quite connected to the museum in the way that makes it powerful today,” said Deirdre Clemente, a professor of fashion history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The event didn’t even take place at the Met until 1971, when Diana Vreeland, the former editor-in-chief at Vogue, became a consultant at the Costume Institute. While previously attendees were primarily elite New Yorkers and high-powered fashion publicists, under Vreeland’s helm the gala gradually became more celebrity-focused, said Clemente.
In recent decades, the event, which has been chaired by Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour since 1995 and has an annual theme relating to that year’s Costume Institute’s exhibition, has become even more star-studded, said Clemente, adding that an established relationship with celebrities means the institute is more likely to eventually receive valuable clothing donations from attendees.
Meanwhile, some politicians have now also begun to achieve celebrity status in their own right, occasionally leading to controversy. After attending the gala in September 2021, Ocasio-Cortez allegedly was late to make payments on hair and makeup bills, culminating in a hair stylist threatening to file a complaint with New York City’s Office of Labor Policy and Standards for Workers, according to the OCE.
Ocasio-Cortez also initially received an invoice for her dress and accessories which totalled $2,283, a fee which was later amended to $990 after a campaign staffer contacted Brother Vellies, the brand behind the dress, to discuss rental costs. The bill was paid in March, while another $5,579 bill regarding transportation and hotel space was paid by Ocasio-Cortez in May.
According to the OCE, none of these payments were made until after the OCE contacted Ocasio-Cortez in February 2022 regarding her attendance at the Met Gala. “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,” said the report. “If Rep. Ocasio-Cortez accepted impermissible gifts, then she may have violated House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law.”
The matter was referred to to the House Ethics Committee in June, which announced it was investigating the matter in December but didn’t disclose details at the time.
The delayed payments were “regrettable” but do not constitute a violation of congressional rules, said Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for Ocasio-Cortez, in a statement. “We are confident the Ethics Committee will dismiss the matter.”