The Office of Congressional Ethics found there is “substantial reason to believe” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) improperly solicited an invitation to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Benefit, commonly known as the Met Gala, potentially in violation of House rules and federal law on solicitation of gifts.
Maloney, who is leaving Congress at the end of this year, denied violating any rules or regulations regarding gifts and said she believes the matter will be dismissed. Her legal counsel asserted she did not solicit an invitation.
The report from the Office of Congressional Ethics, which was transferred to the House Ethics Committee in June, was made public on Monday after the committee opted to extend its review into the matter. The committee noted that continuation of the review and disclosure of the report “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”
The star-studded charity event is one of the most exclusive events in the world, and regularly includes public officials in New York as guests. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) famously wore a white dress with the message “tax the rich” in red letters on its back at the 2021 Met Gala.
Maloney’s Met Gala red carpet looks have included an Equal Rights Amendment-themed gown in 2021, and a firefighter’s jacket over a yellow gown in 2019, to draw attention to her bill to increase funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which was later signed into law.
At the crux of the ethics report are two emails that seemed to show Maloney was unhappy about not being invited to the 2016 Met Gala.
“I received a call this past week from Carolyn. She is unhappy to say the least that she is not receiving an invitation to the Party of the Year,” Emily Rafferty, former president of the Met, wrote in an April 2, 2016, email to the then-director and CEO of the museum. “She went on about how much she does for the Met, always responsive when you call, and proactive re the institute’s concerns in DC. She has been coming to the party for years, and it is the one thing she cares about.”
Maloney, the report notes, secured $2.75 million in federal funding for improvements to the Met from 2003 to 2011, and led a 2020 request for $4 billion in nonprofit assistance to museums including the Met related to COVID-19 relief.
Another email from 2018 from the Met’s former chief government relations officer “suggests that in future years, Rep. Maloney’s 2016 outreach requesting attendance continued to impact her invitation status to the Met Gala,” the report said.
“When she learned she would not be attaining [sic] that year’s gala (2015) she actually pushed back. Carolyn made calls personally to [redacted] and even [redacted]. We have ultimately secured one seat for her each year,” the 2018 email said.
Maloney’s legal counsel argued in a letter to the House Ethics Committee that her inquiries regarding the status of her invitation did not amount to a request for an invitation, and notes that none of the witnesses the Ethics office talked to made the assertion that she requested an invitation to the event.
Maloney also asked her staff in a 2020 email whether she was invited to that year’s Met Gala. Her staff responded that the Metropolitan Museum of Art chief government relations officer would be invited to a St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, at which they may be able to speak to him. Maloney then asked for the person’s contact information.
Maloney said she was inquiring about the event because of COVID-19.
“People were asking whether things were happening or not,” she told the Ethics Office in an interview.
“Representative Maloney is confident that the House Ethics Committee will dismiss this matter. Although the Committee has not made any determination a violation occurred, she is disappointed by the unproven and disputed allegations in the report issued by Office of Congressional Ethics and strongly disagrees with its referral,” a spokesperson for Maloney said in a statement.
“In three decades of honorable service in Congress, Representative Maloney had never before been accused of any ethical improprieties. Nevertheless, she understands that the Ethics Committee is required to review and release the OCE Report, which includes only one allegation related to inquiring about an event invitation six years ago to the Met Gala, a widely attended event to which she was invited by The Met and not by specific Met donors,” the spokesperson said.
The museum technically resides in New York’s current 10th District and borders Maloney’s 12th District, but Maloney “has long considered the Met to be a part of her congressional district,” the report said.
In a January 2022 email, Maloney “expressed concerns regarding the location of the Met within the new district lines,” and her chief of staff drafted a letter on behalf of the Met’s senior vice president of public affairs requesting that the New York redistricting commission keep the Met in Maloney’s district.
Redistricting put Maloney, a longtime House member and chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, up against fellow longtime Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) in an August primary this year. Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, prevailed.
The committee first revealed it was looking into a matter regarding Maloney in October, but did not provide details on the subject.