How Carolyn Maloney’s ticket to the Met Gala led to an ethics investigation

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The Met Gala is one of the must-see events on Manhattan’s social calendar, a chance to pose among the biggest names in fashion, film and music on the red-carpet-covered steps of the Metropolitan Museum.

So when Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a Manhattan Democrat known for her support of the arts, learned in 2016 that she had been cut from the guest list for that year’s gala, she clearly couldn’t bear it.

Maloney called a powerful friend and, in time-honored New York tradition, seems to have done her own version of trying to sweet talk her way up the list.

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“I got a call from Carolyn this past week,” Emily Kernan Rafferty, the museum’s former president, wrote in an email to the then-director and a trustee. “She is unhappy, to say the least, not getting an invite to the Party of the Year.”

What happened next eventually landed Maloney an invite and a night of mingling with celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, and Beyoncé. But in an investigative reference released Monday, a congressional ethics watchdog claimed her flattery — including reminding the Met “how much she does for the Met” — may violate House or federal ethics rules. that prohibit lawmakers from soliciting gifts, including invitations.

In a deadpan 15-page report revealing an investigation by the chairman of the House Oversight Committee from February, the Office of Congressional Ethics said it had found “substantial reasons to believe that Representative Maloney made unauthorized gifts in connection with her presence would have asked or accepted at the Met Gala.”

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With 76-year-old Maloney set to retire next month after losing her seat in a blood-curdling primary, it’s unlikely she’ll face any real punishment. The Ethics Bureau, an independent entity, referred the matter to the bipartisan House Ethics Committee in June as Maloney battled for re-election. The commission did not make it public until Monday, saying it was still pending.

But the report — which included private messages from the Metropolitan Museum and interviews with former high-level museum officials and Maloney herself — is an embarrassing coda to three decades of service for one of the most powerful women in Congress.

Maloney and her lawyers have repeatedly denied that her actions were inappropriate, saying she never explicitly requested a ticket to the 2016 event, officially known as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Benefit, let alone any favors for it. had exchanged.

A spokesperson for Maloney said the congresswoman “strongly disagrees” with the reference and was “confident that the House Ethics Committee will dismiss this case.”

The Met sits on the border of Maloney’s wealthy neighborhood on Manhattan’s East Side, and while she doesn’t currently represent it, she has worked closely with the museum over the years to secure federal funding and promote its exhibits.

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It’s unclear exactly why Maloney was initially dropped from the 2016 gala guest list. Event organizers often invite top New York City officials to attend for free (tables can reportedly cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for those who pay), and Maloney has attended in the past.

The report included an internal memo from the museum dated July 2015 listing government officials who should be invited to the gala in May. Then-mayor Bill de Blasio tops the list, which includes Scott Stringer, the comptroller; Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council speaker; and city councilors such as Daniel Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal.

Maloney’s name was crossed out and she was clearly displeased when she found out. She called Rafferty, who had just stepped down as president of the Met, in late March or early April, according to an email in the ethics report.

“She went on to talk about how much she does for the Met, always responding when you call and proactively responding to the concerns of the DC institution,” Rafferty wrote. “She’s been coming to the party for years, and it’s all she cares about.”

Rafferty concluded by recommending that space be made for Maloney to attend.

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The email is the centerpiece of the report’s findings. House rules and federal law exempt members of Congress from attending charitable events like the Met Gala for free, but the report says “members may only accept unsolicited offers of free attendance.” The report claims that Maloney’s invitation was requested.

In an interview with investigators, Maloney said she had no recollection of the conversation. And in a separate memo to investigators, her attorneys, Sam C. Neel and Stephen M. Ryan, disputed the ethics office’s conclusion that the phone call or other evidence constituted a solicitation or request.

“Conspicuously absent from these statements, however, is any mention that Chairman Maloney requested an invite to the 2016 Met Gala or threatened to withhold her support due to her exclusion from the event,” they wrote.

The commission’s report suggested that the 2016 brouhaha may have helped secure Maloney tickets for years to come. If so, she’s since used them to highlight her top legislative priorities: In 2019, she wore a firefighter’s jacket to the gala, supporting efforts to fund health benefits related to September 11; two years later, her yellow, green, and purple dress calling for the Equal Rights Amendment to be passed attracted attention.

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