Sweetheart deal

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A sweetheart deal or sweetheart contract is a contractual agreement, usually worked out in secret, that greatly benefits some of the parties while inappropriately disadvantaging other parties or the public at large. The term was coined in the 1940s to describe corrupt labor contracts that were favorable to the employer rather than the workers, and usually involved some kind of kickback or special treatment for the labor negotiator.[1][2]

The term is also applied to special arrangements between private corporations and government entities, whereby the corporation and sometimes a government official reap the benefits, rather than the public.[3] No-bid contracts may be awarded to people who have political connections or make donations to influential politicians.[4] Sometimes a sweetheart deal involves tax breaks or other inducements to get a corporation to do business in that city or state.[5][6]

A "sweetheart settlement" may also occur in a legal context. For example, in a class-action lawsuit the attorneys representing a class of plaintiffs may reach an agreement with the defendant in which the primary result is a lucrative fee for the attorneys rather than maximum compensation for the class members.[7]

Noted instances and allegations[edit]

Legal reform[edit]

The 1959 Landrum-Griffin Act was a federal law that attempted to prevent sweetheart labor contracts and other forms of corrupt dealing by unions.[13]

2019 study[edit]

A 2019 study examined the language of government contracts, looking for "sweetheart terms" – wording that is "highly favorable to the firm, but not obviously advantageous to the government". They found that such language is more commonly included in contracts with firms that make political contributions.[14]


  1. ^ Main, Carla T. (2007). Bulldozed: "Kelo", Eminent Domain and the American Lust for Land. New York: Encounter Books. p. 62. ISBN 978-1594032899. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  2. ^ Weir, Robert E.; Hanlan, James P. (2004). Historical Encyclopedia of American Labor. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 478. ISBN 0313328641. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  3. ^ Palmatier, Robert Allen (2000). Food: A Dictionary of Literal and Nonliteral Terms. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 352. ISBN 0313314365. Retrieved 2017-01-19. Sweetheart deal.
  4. ^ Sherman, Ted (August 2, 2019). "Political players got sweetheart deals in poor N.J. school district, critics charge". NJ.com. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  5. ^ Thomas, Crystal (July 23, 2019). "'Sweetheart deal' or 'wording issue'? Missouri tax credit tailored for Burns & McDonnell". Kansas City Star. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  6. ^ "Are corporate tax incentives worth it?". The Week. February 12, 2018. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  7. ^ Mathis, Klaus, ed. (2014). Law and Economics in Europe: Foundations and Applications. Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media. p. 246. ISBN 978-9400771109. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
  8. ^ "Store Owners Picket Grocery Shops in Marin". The San Francisco Examiner. Nov 8, 1947. Retrieved September 16, 2019 – via Newspapers.com Free to read.
  9. ^ Hunt, Lester (June 17, 1949). "Laundry Labor Dispute Heads For Washingthon". Indianapolis Star. p. 4. Retrieved September 16, 2019 – via Newspapers.com. Free to read
  10. ^ "Alex Acosta made an ethically compromised decision 10 years ago. Today, he should resign". Miami Herald. July 10, 2019. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  11. ^ Gregorian, Dareh (December 5, 2018). "Lawmakers demand probe of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's 'sweetheart deal'". NBC News. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  12. ^ Johnston, David Cay (January 26, 2018). "Apple's Sweetheart Tax Deal". DC Report. Retrieved 1 September 2019.
  13. ^ Summers, Clyde W. (1987), "Some Historical Reflections on Landrum-Griffin," Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal: Vol. 4: Issue 2, Article 1, page 210.
  14. ^ Ferris; Stephen P.; Houston, Reza; Javadhakze, David (January 6, 2019). "It is a Sweetheart of a Deal: Political Connections and Corporate‐Federal Contracting". The Financial Review. 54 (1): 57–84. doi:10.1111/fire.12181.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)