What is Public Advocacy?

Instructor: Amina Borrero
In this lesson we will take a brief look at public advocacy. Students will learn what is an advocate, who can help consumers, and what organizations can help with consumer rights.

Buyer Beware

Imagine that you are in the market for a new cell phone. You look at the advertisements from the various providers and choose a plan that you think suits your needs--an unlimited talk, text, and data plan for only $40 a month. What a great deal! You sign up and get your phone and start to enjoy your new tech gadget.

The next month you get your bill in the mail and you are shocked to see it's for $150! The provider has charged you outlandish fees for overages to your plan. How can you have overages if your plan is unlimited? You take your complaint to the company, but get no resolution. Who else can you contact?

You could reach out to a consumer advocate. But what is an advocate? Let's find out and take a look at what is advocacy, the role of an ombudsman or inspector general, and the rights of consumers.

What is Public Advocacy?

Advocacy is the activity of an individual or group to influence or support a particular cause or policy. This can take many forms in the public and private arenas. There are many examples of different types of advocacy groups.

  • Lobbyists and special interest groups can be advocates in the political realm.
  • There are patient advocates who work in hospitals to help protect patient rights in the healthcare industry.
  • There are many nonprofit groups interested in bettering consumer experiences or treatment, like Better Business Bureau who deals in marketplace trust or the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) who researches consumer interests, releases information, and tries to advance pro-consumer laws.

These advocates may be involved in everything from helping to write legislation, to entering into litigation with, say, insurance companies, to filing class action lawsuits such as safety recalls on automobiles.

Ombudsmen

There also exists advocates who work as part of a government. A person who is appointed by a government to advocate and investigate complaints from citizens against public services or organizations is known as an ombudsman. If a complaint is submitted to the ombudsman, they will investigate and make any recommendations based on their findings. Their role is more of a mediator, helping reach a solution with the offending agency in the interest of whomever filed the complaint.

Where ombudsman usually investigation poor administration, in the United States, there are also Inspector Generals, which investigate financial mismanagement like fraud, abuse, or waste. The Office of the Inspector General, or OIG, is responsible for investigating citizen complaints or concerns regarding various governmental agencies and departments. The OIG functions independently from most government agencies in order to have the autonomy to investigate issues more completely.

Consumer Rights

Consumer rights are a consistent hot topic in legislative circles. Consumer rights are laws that regulate what businesses must do to protect customers from harm. In the United States there are many consumer protection laws that exist.

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