November 30th, 2005
Protect Our National Parks from Corporate Corruption
By Gary Ruskin
In a brazen step to commercialize and corrupt our national parks, the U.S. National Park Service is proposing to offer itself up for sale—as an agent of corporate public relations.
The Park Service is seeking public comments on its proposal. Comments are due by Monday, December 5th. To send comments, go to:
The Park Service wants to solicit companies to let them use the Park Service in advertising or public relations campaigns – in exchange for big contributions. Imagine, for a moment, TV ads by corporate criminals like Chevron or Louisiana-Pacific, boasting that they are “proud sponsors” of Yellowstone or Yosemite. Imagine the prospect of TV ads for Philip Morris or Merck featuring the smiling faces of park rangers. (And imagine, too, what might happen if corporations were eventually invited to “sponsor,” say, the Department of Justice.)
The proposal would give corporations opportunities to put their logos in the parks, on park brochures, kiosks and benches, among other places.
As if this all weren’t bad enough, the Park Service also proposes to allow the sale of naming rights to “rooms in a park facility,” opening the door to greater encroachments of naming rights in the future. (Imagine, ten years from now, visiting the Wal-Mart Washington Monument.)
There are plenty of reasons why this proposal is a terrible idea. Here are a few:
1. Our national parks are owned by the public; they should not be for sale. Period.
2. Parks should be free from the marketing that assails us in our daily lives. We go to parks for respite, not for further bombardment by marketers.
3. Government solicitation of big money from corporations in exchange for public relations assistance is corrupt and outrageous. This is a dreadful precedent for the integrity of our federal government. It is a recipe for the corruption of federal agencies. What if other agencies were to start soliciting corporate sponsorships too? Which company will be the first to sponsor the Treasury Department? Or the White House? And what would that do the public trust?
4. Our national parks do not exist to help companies make money. Rather, they exist for our enjoyment and edification, and to preserve their contents for future generations.
5. In effect, the Park Service would implicitly endorse its sponsors. It is not the proper role of the Park Service, or any part of the federal government, to endorse the products of private companies.
6. The Park Service should encourage philanthropy – gifts with no strings attached – but it should not be a party in corporate marketing.
7. The solicitation and receipt of large corporate contributions in exchange for public relations services will inevitably create conflicts-of-interest. Will the Parks Service be less inclined to reduce the air pollution levels in the parks if they are sponsored by Ford or Shell? Will they be more predisposed to permit all-terrain vehicles if they are sponsored by Kawasaki Motor or Yamaha Motor?
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