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 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

The D’Souza Case and Big Data

The recent indictment of conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza is, in many ways, an unremarkable example of a garden variety “straw donor” prosecution.  The Department of Justice cranks out a steady stream of them.  Even the relatively small dollar amount at issue ($20,000) is not especially unusual. DOJ is aggressive in prosecuting even small reimbursement cases. … Continue Reading

New York’s “Moreland Commission” Issues Its Preliminary Report

Earlier this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo empaneled a so-called “Moreland Commission,” under New York’s Moreland Act, to investigate public corruption.  The Moreland Commission, also known as the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, is led by several state prosecutors.  It recently issued its preliminary report.  That report reflects that the Moreland Commission is using … Continue Reading

D.C. Council Passes Campaign Finance Legislation

After extensive legislative deliberation over the past year, last week the Council of the District of Columbia unanimously approved a campaign finance reform bill which aims to tighten up rules around LLC contributions and promote fundraising transparency.  Notably, the D.C. Council had contemplated inserting pay-to-play restrictions in the campaign finance bill, but ultimately removed any … Continue Reading

Proposed IRS Regulations for 501(c)(4)s: Sooner Than Expected, But Probably Too Late

Yesterday evening the Treasury and the IRS released, sooner than expected, proposed regulations that could fundamentally change the playing field for 501(c)(4) organizations active in politics.  The proposed regulations will be published in the Federal Register on Friday, November 29.  The pre-publication version is here. Highlights The proposed regulations mirror the approach first taken by … Continue Reading

What Does the Government Shutdown Have To Do with the STOCK Act?

In the ever-changing world of corporate political law regulation, one of the new kids on the block is the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 (“STOCK Act”).  This new law was intended to apply criminal insider trading laws to trading on material, non-public information obtained from Congress, the executive branch, or the judiciary.  … Continue Reading

Lobbying Disclosure and the Intelligence Community

With the National Security Agency in the news, there has been some media attention to who is lobbying whom in the intelligence community, and how much they are spending while doing it.  Often media coverage of lobbying expenditures misinterprets the available federal Lobbying Disclosure Act (“LDA”) data.  The LDA notoriously contains many gaps.  Those who … Continue Reading

Covington Issues Client Advisory Regarding STOCK Act and Political Intelligence Gathering

Covington’s cross-disciplinary team of political lawyers and securities lawyers that has been advising clients on STOCK Act compliance and enforcement issues for more than a year today issued a new client advisory, which is available here.  The advisory outlines examples of steps that companies can take to address STOCK Act risks, in an environment in … Continue Reading

Connecticut Governor’s Gift Rule Issue Highlights the Legal Minefield for Corporate Events

A brewing controversy over Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy’s trip to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner highlights how media corporations and other firms that invite public officials to events can become embroiled in government ethics matters (h/t Eric Brown’s Political Activity Law Blog).  The Governor reportedly accepted an invitation to attend the WHCA at the … Continue Reading

Covington Issues Client Advisory Concerning Senate PSI Campaign Finance Investigation

Today we issued a detailed advisory to clients about the anticipated campaign finance investigation by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.  Senator Levin, who chairs the Subcommittee, recently announced his intention to lead an investigation of “secret money” in US elections.  We are following this very closely for clients, including corporations, trade associations, advocacy groups, … Continue Reading

Conference Call on Corporate Political Spending Disclosure

Many public companies are busy fending off shareholder demands (in one form or another) that they disclose political and lobbying expenditures.  Covington’s Election and Political Law Practice Group and its Securities Law Practice Group are holding a conference call this Thursday, March 21, 2013, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern, to discuss recent developments, and strategies companies … Continue Reading
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