Robert Kelner

Robert K. Kelner

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Covington & Burling LLP
One CityCenter
850 Tenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001-4956
Tel: +1 202 662 5503



  • 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

Judicial Clerkship

  • Hon. José Cabranes, U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, 1997-1998

Bar Admissions

  • District of Columbia
  • Maryland


  • Hebrew
  • Russian

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.  He is also a leading authority on the arcane rules governing political contributions and marketing activities by registered investment advisers and municipal securities dealers.

Mr. Kelner's political law clients include numerous multinational corporations, many of which are household names.  He counsels major banks, hedge funds, private equity funds, trade associations, PACs, political party committees, candidates, lobbying firms, and politically active high-net-worth individuals. He has represented the Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee, and National Republican Senatorial Committee.  He also advises Presidential political appointees on the complex vetting and confirmation process.

As a partner in the firm’s White Collar Defense & Investigations practice group, Mr. Kelner regularly defends clients in congressional investigations before virtually every major congressional investigation committee.  He also defends corporations and others in investigations by the Federal Election Commission, the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, federal Offices of Inspector General, and the House & Senate Ethics Committees.  He has prepared many CEOs and corporate executives for testimony before congressional investigation panels. He regularly leads the Practicing Law Institute’s training program on congressional investigations for in-house lawyers.  In addition, he is frequently retained to lead internal investigations and compliance reviews for major corporate clients concerning lobbying and campaign finance law issues.

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, Associated Press, Legal Times, Roll Call, The Hill, Politico, USA Today, Financial Times, and other publications.

Mr. Kelner is Chairman of Covington’s Professional Responsibility Committee and a General Counsel of the firm.  He also currently serves as Chairman of the District of Columbia Bar’s Legislative Practice Committee, and he previously was appointed by the President of the American Bar Association to serve on the ABA’s Standing Committee on Election Law.

Representative Matters

  • 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).

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

  • 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 (2015-2016) 
  • Washington DC Super Lawyers, Legislative & Governmental Affairs & Criminal Defense: White Collar (2012-2015)

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

Publications and Speeches

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