What to do when a consumer advocate runs for president

These are interesting times. Yesterday, consumer advocate turned U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren announced she would run for president. She joins Kamala Harris, another presidential hopeful who also wears a consumer advocacy hat.

I try to stay out of politics as much as possible, but there hasn’t been this much talk about consumer advocates since Ralph Nader ran for president. So let’s go there.

When a consumer advocate runs for president

Every politician should be an advocate for his or her constituents. But when someone says they’re a consumer advocate, they’re claiming something specific. They’re saying that protecting people is their life’s work.

That’s not just rhetoric. I would expect to see passed legislation that protects consumers and a long track record of helping people.

I remember dealing with Warren when she was still a college professor. My editor strongly recommended that I show her a draft manuscript for my first book, Scammed. Warren never responded to my many polite requests to review the book. Finally, I reached her secretary, who said she was “too busy” to help me.

Maybe I just caught Warren during finals week. But that isn’t the kind of response I would have expected from a consumer advocate. I’ve spoken with Ralph Nader several times and have found him to be very accessible and generous with his time. I may not agree with all of his politics, but from my perspective, he’s the real deal.

What to expect from your presidential candidate

The presidential primary season is less than a year away, Many of my civic-minded readers are already evaluating the candidates — and there are many candidates.

So how do you determine if the consumer advocacy label is just hype?

Here’s my take: Every presidential candidate should be “for” the people, obviously. So, in a sense, they are all consumer advocates.

But if they claim the mantle of consumer advocate, they should also have a record of helping people by creating new laws and regulations that protect consumers. I would expect at least a book, maybe a manifesto on consumer protection. Mostly, though, I would expect hundreds of thousands of grateful constituents who say, “This candidate made a difference for me.”

I have a feeling that in the coming months, many candidates will claim they are advocates. But if their words don’t line up with their deeds, be careful. And cast your vote accordingly.

And now, a word from this consumer advocate

I’m not running for political office. I do, however, hope that you vote in the next presidential election. We need all the conscientious voters we can get.

But I digress. I’m just the guy in the corner asking questions, that’s all.

Anyway, it’s been an interesting week for the advocacy work on the ground. After a record-breaking January, it looked as if things were quieting down. Then all hell broke loose. We’re sitting on hundreds of new cases and my team and I are trying to answer all of them. (If you’re one of them, hang in there. We’ll get back to you ASAP.)

Did I mention that print journalism is dying? I may have. Every morning, I open my email and find new reports of layoffs. I feel lucky to have the media outlets that I do, but I know that at some point, it’s just going to be you and me and this website.

It’s OK. I’ve had a nice run and I’ve committed acts of journalism for almost every media organization in North America. Maybe it’s time to move on to the next thing. But I will miss hearing from my readers on Sunday when the travel sections used to publish. That’s going to be a sad day for me.

This week’s stories

How do I sit with my kids on a plane?
If you haven’t heard about the infamous airline separation algorithm yet, here’s what you need to know: It’s a seat allocation program that allegedly keeps families apart on the plane, prodding parents into paying more for advance seat assignments. Read more “How do I sit with my kids on a plane?”

Why can’t I cancel my reservation at the Madison LES Hotel?
Illyanna Maisonet wants to cancel her reservations at Madison LES Hotel. She believes they can be canceled 24 hours before her arrival, but the hotel disagrees. Who’s right?

A frozen Venmo account, and no way out
When the online payment service Venmo freezes Antoinette Sclafani’s account, it offers only one way out: She must send the company a copy of her driver’s license. But she doesn’t want to. Can this advocate help her with a better solution to her frozen Venmo account?

Hotel guests are baffled by after-the-fact damage charges. Here’s what’s going on.
After Doris Weller checked out of the Hampton Inn Parsippany, she assumed that she’d settled her bill. But the New Jersey hotel had a final surprise: a mysterious $250 damage charge to her Discover card. A manager claimed that she’d damaged her bed, but offered no details.

Don’t make these common travel insurance mistakes
It’s peak season for travel insurance claims, a time of year when vacationers are sending their reimbursement requests for their ill-fated year-end holiday getaways. If you’re one of the unlucky travelers who are about to file a claim, be careful to not make one of several common travel insurance mistakes,` any of which can potentially lead to a rejection of your claim.

Have a great week!

Posted in This Week

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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