FacultyFaculty/Author Profile

Robert K. Kelner

Covington & Burling LLP

Washington, DC, USA

Robert Kelner is the chair of Covington’s Election and Political Law Practice Group. His practice includes defense against government investigations, including congressional investigations and white collar criminal matters.

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 Foreign Agents Registration Act, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and the 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.  Clients include numerous Fortune 500 corporations, banks and financial institutions, major national trade associations, PACs, political party committees, federal candidates, lobbying firms, politically active high net worth individuals, and political appointees.  He is the chairman of the firm's Professional Responsibility Committee. He also currently serves as chairman of the District of Columbia Bar Administrative Law Section's Legislative Practice Committee, and as an appointed member of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Election Law.

Mr. Kelner 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 accounting and securities fraud.  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, and other Congressional committees.  He also defends clients in audits and enforcement actions by the GAO and by state election and lobbying enforcement agencies.

Mr. Kelner has appeared as a commentator on political law matters on 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, USA Today, Financial Times, and other publications.

Representative Matters

  • Represented the University of California and Los Alamos National Laboratory in long-running Congressional investigations of the world famous nuclear weapons lab. 
  • Represented the Republican National Committee in its U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, the New Hampshire phone-jamming litigation, and the White House e-mail investigation. 
  • Represented Freddie Mac in the FEC’s largest-ever investigation of a corporation.
  • Represented former White House communications official in investigation by House Judiciary Committee and the September 11 Commission concerning the White House and EPA response to air quality issues in Manhattan after September 11.
  • Represented former NASA communications official in investigation by the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform concerning alleged Bush Administration interference with global warming scientists.
  • Represented National Republican Congressional Committee in House Ethics Committee's investigation of former Rep. Mark Foley, and in an FEC investigation of embezzlement of funds by the NRCC's former treasurer.  Negotiated highly favorable settlement of the FEC investigation.

Previous Experience

  • The World Bank, Political Communications Consultant (1994-1995)
  • The Sawyer-Miller Group, a crisis communications and international political consulting firm, advising corporate and political clients, Vice President (1993-1994)
  • HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, Speechwriter (1990-1992)

Honors and Rankings

  • Named by Washingtonian magazine as one of the "Top Lawyers" in Washington for election and political law.
  • Ranked as a top national political lawyer by Chambers USA.

Pro Bono

  • Represented DC Jail prisoner in civil litigation against prison guard concerning physical abuse.
  • Represented Maryland Charter School in administrative challenge to funding decision.


  • University of Virginia School of Law, J.D., 1997
    • Goldsten Prize for Distinction in the Classroom (1997)
    • Virginia Law Review, Executive Editor
  • Princeton University, A.B., 1989
    • Atwater Prize in Politics (1989)
    • High Honors

Bar Admissions

  • District of Columbia
  • Maryland
Robert K. Kelner is associated with the following items:
Live Seminar  Live Seminar Corporate Political Activities 2018: Complying with Campaign Finance, Lobbying and Ethics Laws, Thursday, September 06, 2018, Washington, DC
Corporate Political Activities 2018: Complying with Campaign Finance, Lobbying and Ethics Laws, Thursday, October 04, 2018, San Francisco, CA
Live Webcast  Live Webcast Corporate Political Activities 2018: Complying with Campaign Finance, Lobbying and, Thursday, October 04, 2018, San Francisco, CA

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