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Robert Kelner is the chair of Covington’s nationally recognized Election and Political Law Practice Group.  He counsels clients on the full range of political law compliance matters, and defends clients in civil and criminal law enforcement investigations concerning political activity. He also leads the firm’s prominent congressional investigations practice.

Mr. Kelner’s political law compliance practice covers federal and state campaign finance, lobbying disclosure, pay to play, and government ethics laws. His expertise includes the Federal Election Campaign Act, Lobbying Disclosure Act, Ethics in Government Act, Foreign Agents Registration Act, and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

  • Recently served as lead litigation counsel for Qualcomm in a high-profile lawsuit brought by the New York State Common Retirement Fund to attempt to compel production of internal books and records concerning political contributions.  New York State Common Retirement Fund v. Qualcomm Incorporated (Del. Ch., 2013) (No. 8170-CS).
  • Defended one of the world’s best known information technology companies in a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigation of cybersecurity breaches.
  • Defended a major global consumer health care products company in an investigation of product recalls by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
  • Defended several of the world’s largest banks and financial institutions in investigations by the Congressional Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC).
  • Defended a major multinational corporation in a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations inquiry concerning tax compliance issues.
  • Defended several major pharmaceutical companies in investigations of marketing and business practices by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s O&I Subcommittee.
  • Obtained a favorable advisory opinion from the FEC for Proctor & Gamble.
  • Defended the former Chief of Staff to Senator John Ensign in parallel investigations by the Senate Ethics Committee and U.S. Department of Justice.
  • Defended a senior Senate aide in parallel Senate Ethics Committee and Department of Justice investigations concerning the firing of a U.S. Attorney.
  • Defended a senior House staffer in a sensitive House Ethics Committee investigation.
  • Defended a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives in investigations by the Office of Congressional Ethics and House Ethics Committee.
  • Defended the RNC in investigations by the House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concerning use of RNC email accounts by White House officials.
  • Defended a senior executive branch official in a major agency Inspector General investigation and parallel congressional investigation.
  • Defended two prominent lobbying firms in separate criminal investigations by the Department of Justice.
  • Defended Freddie Mac in the largest-ever investigation of a corporation by the Federal Election Commission.
  • Defended a nationally known television personality in an investigation by the Federal Election Commission.
  • Conducted a major internal investigation for the National Republican Congressional Committee concerning one of the largest ever embezzlements by a political committee Treasurer.

Pro Bono

  • Represents Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as regulatory compliance counsel, and serves on Lincoln Center’s “Counsel’s Council.”
  • Represented a former NASA press office spokesman in a congressional investigation concerning alleged attempts by NASA to silence climate change scientists.
  • Represented a former White House official before the September 11 Commission, and in a subsequent congressional investigation, concerning EPA statements about public health concerns in Manhattan after the September 11 attacks.

Memberships and Affiliations

  • Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center (teaching legal ethics)
  • D.C. Bar Administrative Law Section's Legislative Practice Committee, Chairman
  • Federalist Society, Member

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)
  • Ranked as a top national political lawyer (Band 1) by Chambers USA.
  • Named by Washingtonian magazine as one of the "Top Lawyers" in Washington for election and political law.
  • Legal 500 US, Litigation - Supreme Court and Appellate (2012)
  • Best Lawyers in America, Government Relations Practice (2015-2020) 
  • Washington DC Super Lawyers, Legislative & Governmental Affairs & Criminal Defense: White Collar (2012-2020)