A contracting agent (Tom) works for a large company, negotiating landscaping services for their facilities across each region. He was recruited by the company from the landscaping industry on his knowledge and experience of the field. He’s negotiating with a landscape company negotiator (Frank) to provide the service.
During the negotiation, Frank says to Tom,
“You know how hard it is in our business, so let’s make a deal - You give me 10% over this price and I’ll give you 1 point of that. I get the 9%, you get the 1%.”
Obviously, this is a straight-forward kickback scheme. Everyone recognizes this as corruption, and everyone would condemn it. But let’s muddy the water a bit.
The two men have a long-standing professional relationship with each other, and each year, Frank donates roughly 2-3% of the contract’s value to a non-profit that has Tom as a professional fundraiser, so Tom gets roughly 1% of the contract’s value each year. Both men understand the arrangement, but it’s often discussed as an example of gratitude. Something along the lines of “We want to recognize Tom’s support for our landscaping over the years.” or somesuch.
It’s still a kickback, but it’s done in a way that’s convoluted and confusing so as to escape detection. A wink-and-nod kickback is still a kickback.
Now make Tom a Congressman and the non-profit his re-election committee. Make Frank a public union. That’s how it works today.
Public unions are among the largest contributors in politics. They dominate donation lists and donate nearly exclusively to Democrats. In turn, Democrats grant unions unaffordable contracts that often force tax increases or bankruptcy. But before the government in question files for bankruptcy, these same unions return large amounts of that money to the re-election campaigns of those who gave it to them.
And the workers don’t have a choice, either. It works like this - Democrats recognize and sign exclusive contracts with a union. If someone wants to be a government employee, they must be a member of the union. As a member of the union, they agree that some of the worker’s wages belong to the union, not to them. That money goes directly to the union, it doesn’t hit the worker’s pocket even temporarily. While they can, in theory, object to the union spending that money on politics the worker objects to, that leaves the employee open to retaliation and dismissal. It’s also a byzantine process that takes a long time and the union often claims that it’s political efforts are part of it’s contract negotiations and therefore cannot be opted-out from.
Public unions are the ultimate special interest - they benefit directly from government action, that benefit is separate from whatever benefit or harm the public at large gets, and they benefit at the expense of the public. Worse, their influence within the government is enhanced every time they do benefit. The more benefits they can squeeze out of a government before its collapse, the more in kickbacks - “campaign donations” - they can offer.
Public unions corrupt the democratic process, demanding more tax-money to spend on demanding more tax-money in an ever-increasing cycle.