Robert Kelner

Robert Kelner

Robert Kelner is the chair of Covington’s Election and Political Law Practice Group. Mr. Kelner provides political law compliance advice to a wide range of corporate and political clients.  His compliance practice focuses on federal and state campaign finance, lobbying disclosure, pay to play, and government ethics laws, as well as legal ethics rules.  His expertise includes the Federal Election Campaign Act, Lobbying Disclosure Act, Ethics in Government Act, Foreign Agents Registration Act, and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  He is also a leading authority on the arcane rules governing political contributions by municipal securities dealers, investment advisers, hedge funds, and private equity funds.  Mr. Kelner advises Presidential political appointees on the complex process of being vetted and confirmed for such appointments.

In addition, he regularly advises corporations and corporate executives on instituting political law compliance programs.  He conducts compliance training for senior corporate executives and lobbyists.  He has extensive experience conducting corporate internal investigations concerning campaign finance and lobbying law compliance, as well as other corporate compliance matters.  Mr. Kelner regularly defends clients in investigations by the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. House & Senate Ethics Committees, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, the House & Senate Judiciary Committees, the House Energy & Commerce Committee and its Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations, the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Special Committee on Aging, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and other congressional committees.  He has prepared numerous CEOs and corporate executives for testimony before congressional investigation panels, and he regularly leads the Practicing Law Institute’s training program on congressional investigations for in-house lawyers.  He also defends clients in Lobbying Disclosure Act audits by the GAO and enforcement actions and audits by state election and lobbying enforcement agencies.

Mr. Kelner has appeared as a commentator on political law matters on The PBS News Hour, CNBC, Fox News, and NPR, and he has been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Legal Times, Washington Times, Roll Call, The Hill, Politico, USA Today, Financial Times, and other publications.

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Covington Publishes Comprehensive Advisory Comparing Trump and Obama Executive Orders on Ethics

President Donald Trump this weekend signed his promised “drain the swamp” Executive Order, which imposes ethics restrictions on incoming and outgoing Trump Administration appointees. Incoming appointees would, of course, do well to carefully review the provisions of the Executive Order. But companies that deal with the Administration—whether by lobbying the executive branch, by seeing a … Continue Reading

Trump Administration Executive Order on Ethics Breaks New Ground

President Trump signed an executive order on ethics this weekend that is similar in key respects to the Obama Administration’s executive order governing ethical conduct by presidential appointees. But in one key respect it is significantly broader in scope than the previous Obama executive order. The Trump executive order incorporates the concept of “lobbying activities,” … Continue Reading

Covington Updates Investigations Manual for House and Senate Chiefs of Staff

Covington today released an updated version of its manual for Chiefs of Staff to Members of Congress concerning best practices for responding to government investigations of Members and their staff.  Titled “A How-To Guide for Chiefs of Staff,” the manual describes how government investigations unfold and the steps that Chiefs of Staff need to take … Continue Reading

Presidential Appointees Can Take Advantage of 2014 OGE Guidance on Hedge Funds

As the President-elect begins to nominate individuals for Senate-confirmed positions in his administration, one of the major hurdles these individuals face is the statutory requirement that the Director of the Office of Government Ethics (“OGE”) review and certify a public disclosure of each source of income exceeding $200 and each property interest exceeding $1,000 in … Continue Reading

New Year, New Gift Rules for the Federal Executive Branch

Corporations, trade associations, and others who interact with federal executive branch employees should be aware of the Office of Government Ethics’ (OGE) recent amendments to the executive branch gift rules, which go into effect on January 1, 2017. Seeking to encourage transparency and advance public confidence in the integrity of federal officials, OGE redefined some … Continue Reading

The 2017 Presidential Inauguration: Ethics and Compliance Issues

With Election Day 2016 in the books, the political world turns to the transition of power and the January 20, 2017 Inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence. With the swearing in of the new President and Vice President will come the traditional balls, parties, and receptions. The inauguration and related events … Continue Reading

Guidelines for Interacting with President-Elect Trump’s Transition Team

Over the next nine weeks, the Trump Presidential Transition team will formulate policy and staffing recommendations for the new administration. This alert gives a broad overview of the Transition and the laws that regulate interactions with Transition team members on issues related to appointments and policy recommendations. Persons interested in this topic may also wish … Continue Reading

What To Expect When You Weren’t Expecting A Congressional Investigation

Congressional investigations are rare, but for corporations, they are not quite “black swan” events that are impossible to predict.  For companies in high profile, controversial, or highly regulated industries, they are more like “gray swan” events.  They happen often enough that you can and should plan for them.  We’ve published an article that helps you … Continue Reading

Federal Court in D.C. Rules Against FEC in Important Disclosure Case

In an important decision, U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper today ordered the Federal Election Commission to reconsider its dismissal of a complaint filed by CREW against two tax-exempt advocacy organizations that have never registered with the FEC.  CREW alleged that the two groups, American Action Network and Americans for Job Security, had as their “major … Continue Reading

OGE Updates Rules Governing Recruiting of Federal Employees to Private Sector Jobs

Companies are increasingly hiring out of the federal workforce, only to find that their new hires are restricted by “revolving door” rules that prohibit their participation in certain matters – sometimes for a limited time, sometimes permanently. New rules issued recently by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (“OGE”) serve as a reminder that, even … Continue Reading

The Senate’s District Court Win in the Backpage Subpoena Fight Could Have Significant Implications for Congressional Investigations

Last week, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in a rare case that has the potential to contribute significantly to the case law concerning congressional investigations. It is uncommon for a federal court to have an opportunity to rule on a congressional … Continue Reading

The Supreme Court Redraws the Lines for Corruption Prosecutions

The Ferrari carrying former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell appears to have made a U-turn this week on its way to the federal penitentiary.  Covington released today a Client Alert on the Supreme Court’s decision in McDonnell v. United States, a decision which vacated Governor McDonnell’s conviction and redraws the lines for corruption prosecutions.   The Court held a public … Continue Reading

Covington Issues Client Advisory on Bank Loans and Transactions with Candidates and Political Groups

Covington recently issued an advisory to its bank and financial institution clients explaining the rules governing their business dealings with candidates and political groups. The advisory, which is available here, deals with loans and other transactions that sometimes cause banks to run afoul of Federal Election Commission regulations or government ethics rules. While banks are … Continue Reading

POGO Report on FARA Misses the Larger Point

Last week, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) released a report on the Foreign Agents Registration Act with an attention-grabbing title:  “Loopholes, Filing Failures, and Lax Enforcement: How the Foreign Agents Registration Act Falls Short.”  The tone of the title was echoed in several news reports, including in The Hill (“Foreign lobbying enforcement ‘lax’”) and … Continue Reading

Covington Releases Congressional Investigations Overview for 114th Congress

Covington today issued a client advisory providing an overview of expected congressional investigation activity in the new Congress.  The advisory describes the new leadership and priorities for the major congressional oversight and investigation committees.  While Republicans, who now control both houses, are expected to focus their investigations on the Obama Administration, those investigations inevitably draw … Continue Reading

National Party 2.0: FECA Amendments in Omnibus Spending Bill Increase Fundraising Power of National Parties

If you skipped to the final pages of the omnibus spending bill unveiled last night to see how it ends, you would find a rather dramatic change in campaign finance law related to party committee contribution limits.  Page 1599 (of 1603) of the spending package contains amendments to the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) that … Continue Reading

Court Dismisses Challenge to SEC Pay to Play Rule (For Now)

In an important decision, the US District Court for the District of Columbia yesterday dismissed a constitutional challenge to the SEC’s “pay to play” rule, which restricts contributions and fundraising by some individuals who are associated with hedge funds, private equity funds, and other registered investment advisers. The Court ruled that the case had been … Continue Reading

FARA Again in the Spotlight: New York Times Examines Foreign Funding and Think Tanks

This weekend, the New York Times ran a lengthy investigative report on foreign government donations to U.S. think tanks.  The story alleged that the foreign governments bought influence and paid for advocacy by some of the nation’s most respected research institutions.  The article outlined contributions from Norway, UAE, Qatar, Japan, and others to think tanks … Continue Reading

Congressional Ethics Office Refers Alleged Unregistered Lobbyist to DOJ

For several years, we have been warning clients and others that it was only a matter of time before we would see criminal referrals against lobbyists who fail to register under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act (“LDA”).  Until now, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has focused exclusively — and rarely — on … Continue Reading

Two More Public Relations Firms Trip Over the Foreign Agents Registration Act

Two public relations firms have filed documents with the Department of Justice revealing that they provided public relations and media services in the United States for the government of Ecuador without being registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), as that law requires.  These firms are the latest in a long string of law … Continue Reading

In Chevron Case, FEC Brings Clarity to the Federal Contractor Ban and Super PACs

The rules on corporate contributions to Super PACs were made clearer today when the Federal Election Commission (FEC) released its finding that Chevron Corporation’s $2.5 million contribution in 2012 to the Congressional Leadership Fund (a Super PAC) had not violated the bar on government contractors making contributions in federal elections. Public Citizen and several environmental … Continue Reading

UK Adopts Mandatory Lobbyist Registry

On January 30, 2014, the UK Parliament adopted the “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014.”  Covington today issued a client advisory explaining the new law, which imposes mandatory registration and disclosure requirements on certain organizations that lobby in the UK.  Significantly, however, unlike in the United States, the new UK … Continue Reading

Covington Releases 2013 FEC Year in Review at its Corporate Political Activity Conference

In conjunction with the Corporate Political Activity and Government Affairs Compliance Conference, which Covington is hosting today in Washington, D.C., the firm’s Election and Political Law Practice Group has issued its 2013 FEC Year in Review.  This is the second year in a row that we have undertaken a systematic study of the major developments … Continue Reading
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