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.
Covington issued several client alerts in recent years warning of a rising tide of enforcement of the once-obscure Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 (“FARA”). Signs of this trend emerged long before the recent, high-profile Special Counsel’s Office investigation. Nonetheless, there was persistent skepticism abroad in the land, particularly among businesses outside the lobbying industry, … Continue Reading
In a significant and unexpected development, the U.S. Treasury Department announced yesterday that certain nonprofits — including trade associations and 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations — would no longer be required to disclose the names and addresses of their donors on the annual “Form 990” they file with the Internal Revenue Service. Although the IRS already … Continue Reading
Washington is awash with lobbyists seeking to address new steel and aluminum tariffs, and other potential tariffs, on behalf of both foreign and domestic clients. Lobbying on trade issues in some circumstances may trigger Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) obligations. The connection between trade lobbying and FARA was the subject of close scrutiny several decades … Continue Reading
Eighty years ago, Congress enacted the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”), requiring “foreign agents” to register with the Attorney General. As amended over the years, it applies broadly to anyone who acts on behalf of a “foreign principal” to, among other things, influence U.S. policy or public opinion. Until recently, it was a backwater of … Continue Reading
There is one very important political law provision to watch as the tax bill moves to a final vote in the Senate, and potentially a conference committee reconciles the House and Senate versions. This amendment will remove the ban on partisan political activities by charitable entities, churches, educational institutions and all other organizations exempt from … Continue Reading
The new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Representative Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), outlined his plans for the Committee last week. As we expected, Mr. Gowdy said that he would pursue more methodical investigations. Noting that hearings are “an inefficient way to gather facts,” Mr. Gowdy said that the Committee would pursue … Continue Reading
The Trump administration’s efforts to curtail congressional oversight of executive branch agencies by individual Members of Congress, including ranking Democratic Members of Committees, ran into significant opposition from an unlikely source: Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Republican Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Grassley’s strong reaction is consistent with his role as perhaps Congress’s … Continue Reading
With the announcement by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) that he plans to resign from Congress on June 30, it appears increasingly likely that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) will become the next Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the House’s powerful watchdog committee that has very broad investigative jurisdiction. Although a final … Continue Reading
The long saga of the legal challenge by Carl Ferrer, CEO of Backpage, to a subpoena issued by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (“PSI”) appears to have reached a conclusion. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit this week dismissed the case as moot and additionally vacated a series of … Continue Reading
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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 yesterday 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
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 including the … Continue Reading
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 — … Continue Reading