Carolyn Maloney May Have Demanded Met Gala Ticket: Ethics Office
If Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the chairwomen of the House Oversight Committee, were not leaving office at the end of this term, she could be on the hook for an ethics reprimand for trying to extract a free ticket to the prestigious Met Gala, officials said Monday.
According to an ongoing investigation by the House Ethics Committee, Maloney appears to have felt slighted when she was left off the invite list for the 2016 event -- and leaned on Metropolitan Museum of of Art officials to get one, which, if true, would be a violation of rules that say members of Congress may not solicit things of value.
The Met ball is the museum's major fundraising event and is considered one of the top fashion nights of the year, not just in New York, but anywhere. Tickets to the red-carpeted, paparazzi-swarmed event cost upwards of $30,000.
But the museum regularly invites politicians gratis, with no strings attached, to be sure it's in the good graces of officials who hold the purse strings of public art funding. Maloney -- whose East Side Manhattan district borders the museum and was drawn into a new district this year that she lost in the Democratic primary to Jerry Nadler -- had secured millions for the landmark institution over the years. She'd never had to ask to be invited.
According to documents uncovered by staff in the Office of Congressional Ethics, a miffed Maloney let it be known that she wanted back in. In one email that resulted from her complaints, a Met staffer wrote: "I received a call this week from Carolyn. She is unhappy to say the least that she is not receiving an invitation to the Party of the Year."
"She went on about how much she does for The Met," the official added before recommending that the peeved pol be added back the list.
Maloney got her invite, but the incident left a mark.
Two years later, in planning for the 2019 soiree -- where Maloney came draped in the firefighter's coat she was wearing much of that year to push 9/11 legislation -- officials noted in an email that Maloney would be invited even though she no longer fit their criteria, and that she had "actually pushed back" in 2016 and "personally" phoned up high-ranking officials.
Maloney's defense in a transcribed deposition was that she did not remember lobbying for the ticket, and that she just considered going to the exclusive Met Gala to be part of her routine political responsibilities that her staff worked out. Read the deposition here.
Congressional ethics guidelines are clear that lawmakers can attend charity events -- as long as they have no role in snagging the invite.
In investigating the matter, ethics officials had requested that Maloney, who is a multi-millionaire, produce receipts for items she paid for in preparation for the gala, including $100 hair styling and, one year, $5,000 for dresses.
For 2019, she wore the fire coat, a move that perhaps unintentionally showed Maloney is acutely aware that members of Congress may not accept gifts worth more than $50.
The bunker coat, as such coats are known, was given to her by firefighters who were grateful for her dogged work passing the 9/11 laws. The receipts that the committee obtained, however, showed that Maloney paid about $280 for it. As the wealthy East Sider explained to the committee staff, she had insisted on paying for the gift to stay within the rules. "They gave me the best award I've ever [been] given, a hero's jacket," Maloney told the investigators.
The ethics report was released Monday as part of an announcement that the full Ethics Committee would continue to look into the matter. Such announcements are not meant to indicate culpability, but the report concluded it likely exists.
"The Board finds that there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Maloney may have solicited or accepted impermissible gifts associated with her attendance at the Met Gala," the report says. "Accordingly, the Board recommends that the Committee further review the above allegation."
Since Maloney lost reelection, the case will likely be moot. The committe has no jurisdiction over former members of Congress.
The report also includes one anecdote that shows the importance of the Met to Maloney -- and presages her bitter battle against Nadler. When New York's redistricting commission was drawing up new congressional lines based on the 2020 Census, Maloney had her office lobby to get the museum moved into her district, since the last map had drawn it onto Nadler's side of Fifth Avenue. According to the report, Maloney's chief of staff wrote up a letter for an official at the museum to sign saying Maloney should get the East Side treasure, instead of the West Sider Nadler.
After a judge threw out the commission's map, Maloney's district did get the museum -- but she also got Nadler. If there's silver lining for the Silk Stocking pol, it's that she likely will be gone before the Ethics Committee issues a final verdict or penalty for the House to vote on.