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"Virginia Delegate Drops the Mic & Becomes a Lobbyist"

Published: May 30, 2017
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David Albo, a 24-year veteran of the Virginia State House of Delegates, announced in April that he wouldn’t run for re-election. On his final day in office, he literally dropped his desk microphone and left on a fashionable note by saying, “Dave Albo, out.” You can see the reaction of his colleagues here.

According to Albo, his personal finances prompted this decision. The salary for Virginia State Delegates, $17,640, is far less than that of their counterparts in the U.S. House of Representatives, $174,000.

David Albo, like most state lawmakers, didn’t rely solely on his government salary. He’s a partner in a successful criminal and civil defense law firm. However, the firm will be shut down next year because Albo’s partner is set to become a local circuit judge. 

Where can a former politician always turn to for employment after a stint of public service? The answer, of course, is the corporate lobbying sector. Albo was hired this month by a powerful law and lobbying firm, Williams Mullen.

Albo tried to reassure reporters with the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the fear of the revolving door is overblown. “People have this bad image of lobbyists — I’ve never thought that,” he said. “Particularly in a part-time legislature, they provide a very valuable service.”

Albo’s explanation couldn’t be more wrong. Suffice it to say, the corrupt nature of the revolving door between government and the private sector is something covered in depth in my book series, Rackets, and in previous articles with Blacklisted News.

Revolving door lobbyists clearly possess the potential for undue influence. That’s why there are various rules in place, even though many former officials exploit the loopholes. In some instances, these revolving door exits result in remarkable conflicts of interest.

For example, the press release by Williams Mullen mentioned that “Mr. Albo restructured the entire ABC (Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control), changing it from an Agency to a Private Authority.” It should be noted that there were multiple red flags surrounding that decision. First of all, the alcohol industry was his top contributor last cycle, with over $61,000 in donations. Secondly, the lobbying firm that hired Albo, Williams Mullen, is well known for the services that it provides for many companies in the alcohol industry.

Granted, there was a valid argument for privatizing Virginia’s oldest alcohol regulatory body. After all, the agency had been involved in some high-profile governmental abuses of power. The state’s Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) received unflattering national headlines two years ago that involved a then 20-year-old student at the University of Virginia, Martese Johnson. He was denied entry into a local bar. Afterward, ABC agents detained the young man and slammed his head into the concrete. The injury required ten stitches. Johnson has a pending civil lawsuit.

The Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control reached a $212,500 settlement after a similar debacle unfolded two years before that incident. Another 20-year-old student at the University of Virginia, Elizabeth Daly, was also confronted by ABC agents. A group of six plainclothes agents converged toward Daly after she exited a grocery store late at night in a dimly lit parking lot. They mistook Daly’s bottles of sparkling water for alcoholic beverages. One of the agents pulled a gun and another showed his badge. She was later arrested for resisting arrest after driving away from the scene because she didn’t trust that these men were actually government agents.

Anyhow, as a reminder, the decision to privatize the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverage Control was led by former Delegate David Albo. And it goes without saying that such decisions need to be made without a hint of impropriety. Well, one of the specialties of Albo’s law firm is helping companies in the alcohol industry comply with regulations.

In fact, an advertisement stated, “Few are as intimate with Virginia law as Mr. Albo. As a veteran legislative leader, Mr. Albo has helped write every change to Virginia’s ABC laws for the past 18 years.” In other words, Albo’s firm profits by providing regulatory guidance for the same laws that he helped to write.

The press release by Albo’s new employer, Williams Mullen, also mentioned that Albo “closed literally hundreds of loopholes in DUI and criminal laws.” It didn’t mention that Albo’s firm profited from those loopholes. The best example comes from a blistering article written by Radley Balko. He quoted a claim from Albo’s website that touted, “Our client had a .33 BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration), and got off!”

Balko’s article pointed out that Albo had written several proposals to stiffen the penalties for DUI. And it doesn’t take a genius to deduce that such legislation is good for any business such as Albo’s which has the URL, Yes, another specialty of Albo’s practice is defending traffic offenses.

That leads to the other issue in Balko’s article. The state of Virginia passed an aggressive spending bill for transportation in 2007 that was funded by drastically increasing the fines for speeding tickets. Anyone driving 20 miles per hour over the speed limit is guilty of reckless driving. Also, driving over 80 miles per hour (even on an interstate with a speed limit of 70 mph) is considered reckless driving. That’s a class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia that is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and a total of $3,550 in fines and taxes! And as you probably guessed, David Albo was the author of that bill.

The article by Radley Balko concluded with this thought, “This is pretty brazen stuff. I wonder why it hasn’t been more of a story. And why Albo’s still in office.”

Well, that article was written ten years ago and Albo has kept up to his old tricks. His website posted a blog in 2013 that was titled, “Effort to Repeal Reckless Driving Law Fails.” The post acknowledged the draconian nature of the law:

“Thus, one can be convicted of criminal Reckless Driving if speeding only 11 miles over the posted limit. This small margin surprises a number of motorists.

Those opposed to increasing the speed threshold cite the danger of high speed driving.”

(If you noticed, the blog post used the term “those opposed,” instead of pointing out that Albo wrote the law.)

Since the time that Balko wrote that article ten years ago, Albo continued writing legislation for tougher DUI laws. One of which was a proposal to lower the legal blood alcohol level (BAC) to .02 for anyone driving with a suspended license. In addition, he wrote multiple laws for tougher drug penalties and a variety of other crimes.

To wrap up, Albo was the author of numerous bills during his 24 years as a delegate. There was no apparent financial conflict of interest with the vast majority of his proposals. But, that should never be the case. It taints the entire integrity of the legislative process when the author of a bill stands to profit directly from such legislation.

It should be an honor to represent your community as a lawmaker. Politics shouldn’t be a racket.

Brian Saady is the author of the three-book series, Rackets, which is about the legalization of drugs & gambling, and the decriminalization of prostitution. You can follow him on Twitter @briansaady.

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