265 Citations on the
Trans­parency Problem

We collect citations from political scientists, journalists and politicos who investigate the pitfalls of congressional transparency. A large percentage suggest that congressional transparency expressly favors lobbyists, special interests and those in power.

By Nsubuga, Ranalli & D’Angelo – November 8, 2017


We present citations with links to original sources – each investigating the perils of government transparency. For more on this three-year study see the papers and talks on this site. For a summary of the theory see this.

If we open up our [committees] to the public, every lobbyist in America is going to be there.
– Rep Staggers (D-WV) 1973 – Senate and House Open Up their Sessions
Two decades later, after the advent of sunshine laws, we know better. Open markup sessions often give organized interests a powerful advantage over inattentive citizens, for they can monitor exactly who is doing what to benefit and to hurt them.
– Arnold 1990 (Princeton) – The Logic of Congressional Action
The idea was to make the process more ‘democratic’, but in practice sunshine measures intensified the access of lobbyists.
– Payne 1991 – Culture of Spending
The enactment of the ‘sunshine’ laws, which had opened up committee legislative drafting sessions to the public in order to dilute the power of business lobbyists, had precisely the opposite effect. They enabled business lobbyists to monitor the votes of each elected official more closely.
– Vogel 1989 – The Political Power of Business
“Sunshine” changes have left members visible and vulnerable to attentive publics, most often organized interests.
– Rieselbach 1994 – Encyclopedia of Policy Studies

The Washington Post 1984 – Opening Up Congress (pdf 1.1MBs)

Transparency is a useful tool for lobbyists – it enables them to keep better track of their competitors, and to demand equal access for themselves.
– Frum 2014 – The Transparency Trap
The more open a system becomes, the more easily it can be penetrated by money, lobbyists and fanatics...Congress can now be monitored and influenced as never before. As a result, lobbies, which do most of the monitoring and influencing, have gained power.
– Zakaria 2003 – Future of Freedom
Had the deliberations been open while going on, the clamors of faction (special interests) would have prevented any satisfactory result.
– Alexander Hamilton 1792 – History of the Republic
One example of how a closed session provides protection from special interests came when the committee voted to give banks even better tax treatment than they now enjoy… In the initial recorded vote, only one Republican member of the panel voted against the more favorable treatment for banks. But when the committee voted a second time and decided to reverse the decision, it did so on a voice vote (secret vote). Neither the public nor the bank lobbyists waiting in the hallway knew who changed sides.
– Donosky 1985 – Tax Reform Behind Closed Doors
Despite the general perception that lobbyists prefer opacity with regards to the disclosure of their activities, the OECD’s surveys show that the majority of surveyed lobbyists support mandatory disclosure of information.
– OECD 2013 – Transparency and Integrity
The opening up of the legislative process can make lawmakers much more directly accountable to interest groups whose support they may need for reelection. Lobbyists, after all, now actually sit in on committee markup sessions. This may constrain the policymaking efforts of lawmakers to actions that serve the interests of narrow groups at the expense of the broader public good.
– Bessette 1994 – Mild Voice of Reason
The primary users of the Freedom of Information Act are not journalists and crusaders seeking to reveal illicit activities; they are businesses seeking to find out what government regulators are up to and what their competitors have disclosed to government agencies. Similarly, Congressional reforms requiring publicly recorded committee votes are not of most use to the news media or constituents; they help lobbyists verify whether targeted officials have lived up to their promises to vote for or against major amendments.
– Edsall 2011 – Putting Political Reform Right (NYTimes)
Most members genuinely want[ed] to do what they thought was in the national interest if they could. That wasn’t always easy to do, however. But it was easier to do before the passage of the Sunshine laws [which required that public business be conducted in the open]. When an interest group came in, you would say, “Gosh darn, I tried to support you. I really did. The chairman bent my arm.” Then, to protect yourself, you would tell the chairman that when those guys came in, to tell them that you really fought hard on their issue.
– Sen Packwood 2003 – Future of Freedom
“It’s a real dilemma for liberal reformers,” says Jeff Drumtra, director of the Tax Reform Research Group, an arm of Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen organization. “When you look at recent tax bills, the best ones have come out of closed sessions. You take what you can get and hope someday you can get a good bill at an open meeting.”
– Fessler 1985 – Rewriting Tax Code Behind Closed Doors
It’s not that you want to ignore the public. It’s just that the lobbyists, the pressure groups, the trade associations – they all have their pet projects. If you put something together in public, the Members are looking over at the lobbyists and the lobbyists are giving the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ signs.
– Rep Rostenkowski 2002 – Too Much of a Good Thing

Mansbridge 2010 – Against Accountability

By now, the empirical evidence on the deliberative benefits of closed-door interactions seems incontrovertible.
– Warren & Mansbridge 2013 – Political Negotiation
It is important to ask, moreover, who benefits from the constraints imposed by openness. Theoretically, “the public” does. In practice, however, openness too often serves the narrow purposes of special interests. Do the news media flock to our meetings? Do the public interest groups vie for seats in packed hearing rooms? Do interested consumers wait in line to hear debates on the hazards they face? Hardly.

But, without fail, you’ll find lawyers and lobbyists galore, all representing special interests. Those attending our meetings and burying us with F.O.I.A. requests are the very ones against whom the commission is considering action. They are paid to do just that.

In enacting the Sunshine and F.O.I.A. legislation, Congress wanted to give specific powers and tools to the public to guard against undue influence by special interests. Yet the very interests meant to be watched over have become the watchdogs. They, not the public, most often reap the benefits of openness, and at very high cost to the ability of government agencies to do what is expected of them.
– Statler 1981 – Let the Sunshine In?
With hearings and markups increasingly open to public scrutiny, party leaders and their interest groups were able to keep a closer eye and apply increased pressure on the decisions of committee members.
– Zelizer 1998 – Taxing America
The recorded teller vote, he recognized, is in principle good for democracy, but even this has another side. ‘The amending process became a ‘gotcha’ process rather than a legislative process. It enabled all of these single-issue groups to get a roll call on everything and run a TV ad against you financed by special interests’
– Rep. Obey 2014 – Schudson (Rise of Right to Know)

Rudder 1977 – Committee Reform

A broad movement toward “government in the sunshine” resulted in widespread changes in the internal processes of governing institutions. In Congress, for example, the early 1970s saw the opening of many committee meetings to the public and a movement away from anonymous voting procedures (voice, standing, and teller voting) in favor of putting everything on the record, a development that accelerated after electronic voting was instituted. Although government reformers believed that greater transparency would make it more difficult for members of Congress to conceal votes cast on behalf of special interests, they seem to have ignored the symmetric possibility that more openness made it much easier for special interests to determine whether members were actually delivering on their end of the deal. Many scholars pondered the consequences of congressional decentralization in the 1970s, but fewer reflected on the consequences of making the activities of its members so much more visible to interest groups.
– Fiorina 2012 – Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation
The results [of opening up the conference committees in 1975] is that under the watchful eye of lobbyists, conferees tend to fight harder for provisions they might have dropped quietly in the interests of bicameral agreement. In 1981, for example, a key farm lobbyist was credited with influencing the agricultural conference “just by sitting in the front row.” His presence was significant because “members know that he will report back to the sugar growers telling them who their friends are, and his mere presence reminds the lawmakers how the game is played.”
– Longley & Oleszek 1989 – Bicameral Politics
In an open meeting, the lobbyist knows “who does what, says what, and stands for what.” The conferee’s decision is there for all to see, and “promise-making includes promise keeping.” Besides pressures on conferees arising from lobbyists’ presence, open conference sessions give lobbyists and other interested parties the ability to know more precisely and accurately what is going on. When conferences were closed, a lobbyist’s knowledge of the proceedings was less certain because he generally could monitor the conferences only through information supplied him by conferees who favored his viewpoint. Allies are not always perfect information sources, especially if they have modified or wavered in their initial views and positions. Now, having more complete and direct information through personal observation of conference negotiations, lobbyists can better ensure that their influence and persuasive efforts bear fruit.
– Longley & Oleszek 1989 – Bicameral Politics
In many cases, however, there is little political isolation for the conferees. Instead external participants such as the president, representatives of governmental agencies, and interest groups have intense interest and impact on the conference deliberations. “This is not a conference between the two houses,” remarked Senator John Danforth (R. Mo) in 1988 about the omnibus trade conference of the 100th Congress. “It’s a conference between Congress and the administration.” Some conferences, in brief, operate in relative isolation’ others are deeply immersed in politically volatile webs of interests and pressure.
– Longley & Oleszek 1989 – Bicameral Politics
Ray Dennison, an AFL-CIO lobbyist who opposed the trade bill, said he always prefers open markups and found the closed trade bill sessions particularly unfair.
– CQ Quarterly 1973 – Senate and House Open Up their Sessions
*NOTE: Dennison is a lobbyist who is explicitly calling for more transparency.
The idea that more transparency in government is always an unalloyed good is a dangerous populist illusion...The demand to see decisions being made is more often about giving reporters fodder for juicy stories or enabling groups to pressure decision-makers than helping voters make decisions.
– Fukuyama 2015 – The Limits of Transparency
Opening meetings to the public has meant opening meetings to everyone, including lobbyists, who, it has been claimed, take an even greater part in writing Ways and Means legislation than they did in the past...Thus, the open meetings have made members more accountable to whoever cares to pay attention.
– Rudder 1977 – Committee Reform

Senator Bumpers 1999 NY Times (pdf)

After the 1976 Government in the Sunshine Act required that congressional committee meetings be public, surveys of senators soon concluded that these open meeting requirements were the largest single cause of a decline in the ability to negotiate and to make politically difficult trade-offs.
– Pildes 2014 – Romanticizing Democracy
The silent majority is not going to be present at the open markups of the bills; they are going to be too busy and too occupied otherwise. But if you have open markup on bills...do you not think that the special interests will be there? The silent majority will not be there, but the special interests will be well represented.
– Rep Mahon 1970 – Wolfensburger (Congress & the People)
Because this Government is Republican, it will not be pretended that it can have no secrets…To discuss the secret transactions of the Government publicly, was the ready way to sacrifice the public interest.
Debates and Proceedings of US Congress 1798
An action performed in public is more susceptible to influence by other agents than an action performed in secret is. Therefore those with the most resources at their disposal are in a better position to influence the behavior of others if such behavior takes place in the open than if it is performed in secrecy. I see no way of escaping that influence.
– Manin 2015 – Secrecy and Publicity

Cooper – 2017 Politico

Some former sticklers for sunshine agreed with members who said bills were better when drafted away from lobbyists’ watchful eyes. Conversely, as some of these lobbyists sensed a slippage of their influence over the bill-writing process, they became the 1980s’ proponents of sunshine in Congress.
– Calmes 1987 – CQ – Fading Sunshine Reforms
There are, in short, more people than ever before watching Congress, and fewer secrets that can be kept hidden. The work of Congress is more than ever before a public enterprise, and information about what is happening, and why, is readily available to those who know how to obtain it. It is precisely the very openness of the process that makes Congress so susceptible to influence by lobbyists.
– Wolpe 1990 – Lobbying Congress
This openness presumably made Congress more accountable to the general public. In some cases, however, the main beneficiaries have been organized interest groups – which, unlike the general public, closely monitor legislative activity and keep track of friends and enemies.
– Quirk 1991 – Evaluating Congressional Reform
The effect of open committee meetings, although intended to bring committee ties to organized groups into the “sunshine,” is more debatable. The attentive audience for committee meetings is often precisely those groups; and indeed committees have defended private negotiations and closed sessions as ways to reduce group pressure.
– Quirk 1991 – Evaluating Congressional Reform
Facing unprecedented exposure to public observation, members of Congress are now more prone to take unyielding stands on behalf of attentive constituencies (special interests) and to defer to uninformed prejudices of the general public.
– Quirk 1991 – Evaluating Congressional Reform

Sarah Binder 2015 - Downsides of Transparency (Order in the House)

‘Sunshine’ laws have opened committee hearings to the gaze of the public, or more frequently in practice to lobbyists.
– Wilson 1981 – Interest Groups in the United States
Contrary to the naive sirens of maximum democracy, greater transparency is as much a problem for good governance as it is a solution.
– Cain 2014 – The Transparency Paradox
In the real world of American politics, interested individuals and organizations, not average citizens, have the greater incentive and means to monitor the government closely. This can open the door to obstruction and policy distortion as it enables regulatory capture by interested parties who advocate freely for their views without any countervailing public voice.
– Cain 2014 – The Transparency Paradox
There continues to be a dearth of studies empirically testing the theoretical claims of transparency advocates, even as legislation and institutional support for their case accumulates exponentially.
– Etzioni 2010 – Is Transparency the Best Disinfectant?

Klein – 2013 Washington Post

Because I can see exactly how you vote, you can easily sell your vote to me. Enter anonymous voting, which made it impossible legally for me to be confident about how you, the voter, votes. No doubt, you could promise me that you’ll vote as I wish, but you could just as well promise the same thing to the other side. The price I’d be willing to pay, then, for your vote is much, much less (discounted for the possibility that you’ve also sold your vote to the other side). And by lowering the price, this ingenious reform lowered the significance of vote buying [campaign finance?] substantially.
– Lessig 2011 – Republic Lost
Indeed, the push for more transparency is often advocated by lobbyists themselves, eager for legal clarity and happy to present themselves as fulfilling a vital role in modern democracies through the information they provide to policymakers.
– Cooper 2017 – Politico
Both Madison and Hamilton, then, did not think secret sessions of the national legislature antithetical to the spirit of republican government. Although the government, they might have said with Lincoln, is of the people, by the people, and for the people, it is a government in which the people do not directly participate. The people, according to the First Amendment, have the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances,” but they do not have the right to know about all the deliberations that take place in Congress. Although Article 1, Section 3, of the Constitution requires each House to keep a journal of its proceedings, it also allows that each House may leave out “such parts as may in their judgment require secrecy…” The Founding Fathers did not extol secrecy, but neither did they rule it out. And they probably would have had grave reservations about the spate of laws enacted in the mid-1970s that make the American government the most open government in history.
– Miller 1983 – Special Interest Groups in American Politics
The supposition that transparency uniquely empowers regular folks is quaint fantasy. By and large, those combing the public records and filing information requests are not your neighbors. Generally, they are junior associates at big law firms searching for some detail that can be used to challenge a federal decision that is at odds with their client’s interests... The popular distrust of government officials has taken a toll on a political system that requires the collaboration of divergent in terests. It is time to dispel the simplistic notion that transparency in government is an unmitigated good and recognize the role of privacy in nurturing honesty, creativity, and collaboration.
– Grumet 2014 – The Dark Side of Sunlight (City of Rivals)
Institutional systems characterized as open and accountable should exhibit higher levels of direct lobbying and a broader range of inside lobbying tactics, as policymakers in those systems are driven by the reelection motive to be receptive to communications from advocates about the views of their constituents. Thus, advocates in the United States are expected to display higher levels and a broader range of inside lobbying tactics.

In addition, the role of democratic institutional design should also be perceived within a polity by investigating inside lobbying across the primary political institutions of the political system. Thus in the United States, the U.S. Congress, the most open and accountable of U.S. institutions, should be the object of more inside lobbying than executive agencies or the White House. In the European Union, the Council, the most nontransparent and unaccountable of EU institutions, should be the object of the least amount of inside lobbying.
– Mahoney 2008 – Brussels vs. the Beltway
Long said open committee meetings would mean more pressure from organized lobbies trying to force a decision in their direction...“There are times,” he told the Senate, “when the Committee on Finance is going to have to close its doors to protect the interests of the country and discharge its obligations. It is our duty, to vote to hold a meeting behind closed doors when that becomes necessary either to protect national secrets or to reduce the power of an organized group to try to stampede the committee. The Senate should not make it any more embarrassing and difficult than it needs to be to arrive at this result.”
– Finance Committee Chair, Russell Long 1973
Senate, House Modify Secrecy Rules
“Every time action is taken to close the session,” said John O. Pastore (D R.I.), ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee, “it raises an atmosphere of suspicion that the committee has something to hide. That is the thing that disturbs me.” He said senators would be reluctant to close even those hearings which should be closed and that classified information might be revealed. “When you tell me you are mandating to open up these hearings to the public,” Pastore declared, “I am afraid we are playing footsies with the security of this country.”
– Ranking Member on Commerce – Pastore (D R.I.) 1973
Senate, House Modify Secrecy Rules
The temptations of television are seductive, but they may also be destructive. The risks are many and serious. Instead of informing our people, televised House proceedings may confuse them. Instead of educating it may bore them and make them impatient. Instead of polishing the image of the House, the consequences of broadcasting may further tarnish it. Instead of maintaining the dignity of the House, television may encourage circus antics. Instead of improving the legislative process, television may degrade it. And instead of enhancing the democratic process, television may corrode and cheapen it.
– Rep Clawson 1976 – Congress and the People

Bruce Cain 2016 – Debate “Is Government Too Open”

As for special interest representation, the nation’s capital is filled with lobbying groups and associations. There are scores of industry associations, public affairs lobbies, single-interest groups, and many other advocacy organizations. Special interest groups are major policymaking players...Many interest groups also are informally affiliated with one party or the other, and their demands for loyalty make it difficult for lawmakers to compromise. Ironically, some of the sunshine reforms of the 1970s had the unintended consequence of strengthening the role of special interests.
– Oleszek 2011 – Secrecy and Transparency
If you judge the committee’s work by the bottom line, they have a pretty good case for closing. It’s hard to close loopholes when there are lobbyists in the room.
– McIntyre 1983 – Citizens for Tax Justice
Transparency often imposes direct costs on successful deal making…public attention increases the incentive of lawmakers to adhere to party messages.
– Binder & Lee 2013 – Political Negotiation
A senator periodically receives a record showing the number of times, by percentage, that he or she has voted with each of the other 99 senators. When I first came to the Senate, there were Democrats mixed in with Republicans and vice versa. Today, except for procedural votes, or what are often called throwaways, it’s rare for more than two or three senators to cross party lines on a vote. Nothing could more starkly demonstrate the fog of partisanship that has enveloped the Senate.
– Senator Bumpers 1999 – How Sunshine Harmed Congress

Justin Fox 2006 – Government Transparency and Policymaking

We argue that making lawmakers more accountable to the public by making it easier to identify their policy choices can have negative consequences. Our model suggests that when lawmakers expect their policy choices to be widely publicized, for those lawmakers sufficiently concerned about reelection, the desire to select policies that lead the public to believe they are unbiased will trump the incentive to select those policies that are best for their constituents. Hence, lawmakers who would do the right thing behind close doors may no longer do so when policy is determined in the open.
– Fox 2006 – Government Transparency and Policymaking

Fox 2011 – Costly Transarency

While most of the [increases in transparency] Congress made during this period were not in response to any great outpouring of public sentiment – more than one observer has noted that “congressional reform has no constituency” - they did have the support of various interest groups as well as of editorial writers and columnists.
– Wolfensburger 2000 – Dawning of the Sunshine Seventies
The idea that Washington would work better if there were TV cameras monitoring every conversation gets it exactly wrong. We don’t need smoke-filled back rooms, but we must protect the private spaces where people with different points of view are able to work through their disagreements. The lack of opportunities for honest dialogue and creative give-and-take lies at the root of today’s dysfunction.
– Senator Daschle 2014 – City of Rivals
We’ve probably gone too far in the direction of transparency in a number of government deliberative processes.
– Drutman 2016 – Chaos of American Politics
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the desire for private conversation – even among public officials… It’s time to let common sense reign and let government personnel communicate with each other through the medium of their choosing with a presumption of privacy.
– Yglesias 2016 – Against Transparency
Secrecy is an important shield for conferees against pressures from outside.
– Pressman 1966 – Bicameral Politics (Longley & Oleszek)
Instead of waiting in uncomfortable corridors, lobbyists and reporters...now wait in uncomfortable committee rooms, mostly small old ones in the Capitol designed for private meetings.
– Clymer 1977 – Bicameral Politics (Longley & Oleszek)

Sunstein 2016 – On Transparency

The primary effect of opening committee meetings is that it gives lobbyists more information, and thus more power. It makes lobbying—the art of influencing government officials—a more effective, scientific discipline. It makes it harder for representatives to shake off the cajoling of lobbyists with a friendly white lie. It allows lobbyists to prove to their principals at the home office, with hard data, that their efforts pay off, that investment in legislative influence can be profitable.
– Ranalli 2017 – Sunshine Reforms and Transformation of Congressional Lobbying
The results demonstrate that the failure of previous research to analyze interaction effects have led scholars to draw inadequate and misleading conclusions about the link between transparency, democracy and corruption...Fisher, Ury and Patton even claim that “a good case can be made for changing Woodrow Wilson’s slogan ‘open covenants openly arrived at’ to ‘open covenants privately arrived at’”, arguing that negotiators will produce wise agreements more easily in private than in public.
– Lindstedt & Naurin 2005 – Transparency and Corruption
Arguments against more transparency while merited in a few instances are often not only limited in application, but fundamentally flawed.
– Vishwanath & Kaufmann 1999 – Toward Transparency
The government-in-the-sunshine movement may have had its greatest effect on deliberation in the committee markup stage. When these sessions were secret, congressmen were not strictly accountable for their opinions and actions on the details of a legislative proposal. They had little reason to fear offending a powerful constituency or interest group if they failed to back their requests in every respect. Now these same groups are actually present during the line-by-line reworking of the bill. They can monitor the congressman’s actions on every vital point. It is hard to imagine how any truly deliberative process – of openness to information and argument, of reasoned give and take, and of education on the substance of policy – can occur in such an environment.
– Bessette 1982 – Is Congress A Deliberative Body?

Ornstein 1973 – What Makes Congress Run?

The use of electronic voting in the House has also made it easier for interest groups to follow and grade members. The most famous of these scores are produced by the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) and the American Conservative Union (ACU), but almost all interest groups create some kind of ‘score’ that shows how closely member votes align with the group’s position. These scores are invaluable for group members, who can use them when contacting their representatives or when deciding whether to support (finance) the incumbent in future elections (or funding the campaign of their competitor)...The adoption of electronic voting provided the majority leadership with powerful tools with which to influence legislative outcomes.
– Straus 2012 – The Rise of Roll Call Votes
Once lobbyists knew your every vote, they used it as ammunition...America is increasingly embracing a simple-minded populism that values popularity and openness as the key measures of legitimacy. This ideology has necessitated the destruction of old institutions, the undermining of traditional authority, and the triumph of organized interest groups, all in the name of  “the people.”
– Zakaria 2003 – Future of Freedom
To reduce the dominating and distracting effect that the press, home audiences, and third parties (lobbyists) may have, it is useful to establish private and confidential means of communicating with the other side. You can also improve communication by limiting the size of the group meeting. In the negotiations over the city of Trieste in 1954, for example, little progress was made in the talks among Yugoslavia, Britain, and the United States until the three principal negotiators abandoned their large delegations and started meeting alone and informally in a private house. A good case can be made for changing Woodrow Wilson's appealing slogan “Open covenants openly arrived at” to “Open covenants privately arrived at.” No matter how many people are involved in a negotiation, important decisions are typically made when no more than two people are in the room.
– Fisher & Ury 1987 – Getting to Yes
*NOTE: Harvard negotiation experts Fisher and Ury mention Trieste, but other salient and important examples abound such as Kennedy’s private communications with Khrushchev which averted nuclear war and Mitchell’s closed door sessions which helped resolve the situation in Northern Ireland. In both cases it appears that secrecy was essential to the peaceful negotiation. These ideas are covered in an important paper by Finel titled ‘The Surprising Logic of Transparency.’
Contributions are offered and accepted, solicited and anted up, when legislation is being drafted, considered in committee, voted on on the floor, or considered for repeal.
– Etzioni 1998 – Capital Corruption

World Bank Report – Litvack 2011 / Blair 2000

Everyone knows that laws which provide a secret ballot have deprived the aristocracy of all its influence.
– Cicero 50 BC – De Legibus
Information is the currency of Capital Hill, not dollars and not friends.
– Schoonmaker (Lobbyist) 1993 – It’s What Lobbyists Know
Government transparency is no cure-all and does not always have positive outcomes.
– Cucciniello et al 2017 – 25 Years of Transparency Research
The historic debate on the advantages and disadvantages of electronic voting in many ways hinged on transparency. Throughout the early debate in the 1914 and 1916 Congresses, members were concerned about the transparency of their votes and the consequences of public and lobbyist access to voting information prior to publication in the Congressional Record. Members were also concerned about lobbying by other members during votes, whether votes could be changed once they were cast but before voting time expired, and if changes would be published in the record...(Now) party leadership (uses) voting as a tactic to require other members to state a position on the record.
– Straus 2012 – The Rise of Roll Call Votes
Roll-call votes provide an obvious means by which party leaders can monitor compliance with their voting instructions...Legislative parties may use roll-call votes specifically to discipline their members. Roll-call votes allow legislative party leaders to monitor their members’ behavior, which is essential for accurately doling out reward or punishment.
– Carrubba, Gabel & Hug 2008 – Legislative Voting Behavior

Timmer 2017 – Ars Technica

We investigate…anti-corruption strategies (transparency and leader investment in the public good) and cultural background…These results suggest that a more nuanced approach to corruption is needed and that proposed panaceas, such as transparency, may actually be harmful in some contexts.
– Muthukrishna & Francois 2017 – Nature Magazine
How Anti-Corruption Strategies May Backfire
No Constitution would ever have been adopted by the convention if the debates had been public.
– Madison 1787 – The Public Intellectual
Too much transparency might produce gridlock instead of policy success.
– Oleszek 2011 – Lawmaking
Forcing the publication of votes in an institutional setting that relies on diplomatic practices can have deleterious effects on accountability: In some cases, the publication of votes might operate as a window-dressing device, prompting the public belief that ministers are accountable since they publish their votes, while real monitoring of the decision makers’ stances is not possible.
– Novak 2015 – Secrecy and Publicity
In addition to the democratic goods of the right to know and accountability, transparency in process has recently been advanced as a means to shore up citizen trust in government. Yet transparency may not have this effect. Several studies find no effects of transparency on trust and procedure acceptance. In one recent study, transparency in process did not produce increments of legitimacy significantly greater than transparency in rationale. The authors conclude that “a relatively modest reform focusing on transparency in rationale – such as a reason-giving requirement – may contribute to similar degrees of added legitimacy as more far-reaching transparency in process measures. Decision makers may improve the legitimacy of the procedure by simply outlining carefully afterward the reasons for the decisions taken behind closed doors.”.
– Warren & Mansbridge 2013 (citing De Fine Licht)
Political Negotiation

Skarin 2014 – Why Transparency Gives Power To Wrong People

It was...best for the convention for forming the Constitution to sit with closed doors, because opinions were so various and at first so crude that it was necessary they should be long debated before any uniform system of opinion could be formed. Meantime the minds of the members were changing, and much was to be gained by a yielding and accommodating spirit. Had the members committed themselves publicly at first, they would have afterwards supposed consistency required them to maintain their ground, whereas by secret discussion no man felt himself obliged to retain his opinions any longer than he was satisfied of their propriety and truth, and was open to the force of argument.
– Madison 1787
The duty to deliberate well may often be inconsistent with attempts to conduct policy deliberations on the plane of public opinion.
– Bessette 1994 – Mild Voice of Reason
The question arises (whether)...transparency is either conducive to more corruption or, at least, to corruption taking forms that are more detrimental to efficiency or equity.
– Breton 2007 – The Economics of Transparency in Politics

Grumet 2014 – The Dark Side of Sunlight (pdf 2.5MBs)

After 1971 it became relatively easy to demand a recorded vote on amendments... Such rules changes have complicated the lives of members and reinforced some of the more troubling aspects of the permanent campaign... Opposition researchers pore over members’ voting records in an attempt to find a vote contrary to – or a vote that can be (mis)construed as contrary to – the preferences of their constituents. Every vote a member casts must be considered a potential campaign issue. Indeed, some bills and amendments are offered only as a vehicle for forcing a vote that will provide a campaign issue.
– Ornstein & Mann 2000 – Permanent Campaign

Ornstein & Mann 2000 - The Permanent Campaign

It would be too difficult to put together a fiscally responsible bill if special interests could record how every member voted on every amendment. The temptation to vote yes on everything would be too great.
– Rep. Hatcher 1991 – CQ Quarterly - Behind Closed Doors
Suffice it to say that there appears to be a fairly widespread consensus that the Sunshine Act is not achieving its principal – and obviously salutary – goal of enhancing public knowledge and understanding of agency decision-making. Instead, there is a considerable body of evidence in the academic literature, confirmed by the testimony of several agency officials, that the Act’s “open meeting” requirement curtails meaningful collective deliberation and substantive exchange of ideas among agency members. Rather than actual collective deliberation in public, agency members often use the open merely to announce and explain their positions.
– May 1997 – Reforming the Sunshine Act
Concern that providing initial deliberative views publicly, without sufficient thought and information, may harm the public interest by irresponsibly introducing uncertainty or confusion to industry or the general public; a desire on the part of members to speak with a uniform voice on matters of particular importance or to develop negotiating strategies which might be thwarted if debated publicly; reluctance of an agency member to embarrass another agency member, or to embarrass himself, through inadvertent, argumentative, or exaggerated statements; concern that an agency member's statements may be used against the agency in subsequent litigation, or misinterpreted or misunderstood by the public or the press, as for example, when the agency member is testing a position by "playing devil's advocate" or merely "thinking out loud"; and concerns that a member's statements may affect financial markets.
– Special Committee Report 1997 – Reforming the Sunshine Act
As recently as the early 1970s, congressional committees could easily retreat behind closed doors and members could vote on many bills anonymously, with only the final tallies reported. Federal advisory committees, too, could meet off the record. But...smoke-filled rooms, whatever their disadvantages, were good for brokering complex compromises in which nothing was settled until everything was settled; once gone, they turned out to be difficult to replace. In public, interest groups and grandstanding politicians can tear apart a compromise before it is halfway settled.
– Rauch 2016 – How Politics Went Insane

Alexander Hamilton 1792

There isn’t much hard evidence that transparency reliably improves real-world decision-making or makes the public happier, and some evidence points to ill effects. One recent study finds that, in developing countries, transparency makes the public more fatalistic about corruption rather than stimulating outrage and action; the same dynamic of cynicism and numbness may apply in the United States, especially when transparency is coupled with paralysis. The public sees more of the sausage-making while getting less sausage. Ray La Raja finds that disclosure rules seem to induce small political donors to halve their giving. The point is not that sunshine rules and disclosure laws are always bad or even to deny that up to a point they are a public good in and of themselves; it is only that they can be counterproductive and that reformers’ dogmatic and often moralistic commitment to them needs a reality check.
– Rauch 2016 – How Back Room Deals Can Strengthen Democracy
Transparency often exacerbates crises. Specifically, it seems to have the following effects: First, the media – a major factor in transmitting information made available by transparency – may have an incentive to pay more attention to belligerent statements than more subtle, conciliatory signals [and]… transparency may actually undermine behind-the-scenes efforts at negotiated settlements. [And]… a lack of transparency may actually help states avoid conflict.
– Finel & Lord 1999 – The Surprising Logic of Transparency
Transparency is seen as exacerbating crises by overwhelming diplomatic signals with the “noise” of domestic politics and confusing opponents about which domestic voices are authoritative expressions of state policy. The authors conclude that, surprisingly, transparency makes conflicts worse more often than not – a conclusion that casts doubt on one possible explanation of the democratic peace.
– Finel & Lord 1999 – The Surprising Logic of Transparency

CQ Quarterly – Calmes 1987 – Few Complaints as Doors are Closed

Because of the adoption of rules changes governing voting on the floor, the number of recorded roll call votes each year roughly quadrupled. Members felt more and more harassed by various pressures of office, including less discretionary time, more pressure from single issue interest groups, more clamor for constituency service, more need to raise campaign money, and more subcommittee assignments that demanded their attention.
– Kingdon 1989 – Congressmen’s Voting Decisions
Perhaps most jarring to modern minds was the rule providing “That no thing spoken in the House be printed, or otherwise published, or communicated without leave.” Like the intent of the resolutions rejecting individual roll call votes and permitting revotes, the secrecy rule was designed both to allow members to speak freely without fear of outside recrimination and to allay fears that might be spread should rumors be circulated on the basis of partial information.
– Vile 2005 – The Constitutional Convention
Concerned about how key negotiations are being pushed into the shadows, transparency campaigners and corporate lobbyists have formed an unlikely coalition in response.
– Cooper 2016 – Politico
The transparency functions of government accountability also extend to the role of interest groups as “stakeholders” seeking to influence the policy making process by obtaining information and engaging in discussions with elected officials and civil servants.
– Marquardt 2011 – Transparency and American Primacy in World Politics
In writing a book skeptical of America’s pursuit of increased transparency in world politics, Marquardt injects needed arguments into debates and policies where far too many assume that transparency is an unalloyed good. This book shows how the United States has used transparency for strategic purposes, and not just for mutually beneficial agreements between states. Thus, the United States often encounters resistance to its almost uniformly pro-transparency policies.
– Lindley 2011 – University of Notre Dame
Tip O’Neill launched internal live television of the House floor using House camera crews in March, 1977, and two years later gave the public access through C-SPAN. The Senate followed in 1986 using its own camera crews...We staff got used to having the backs of our heads on TV, and we cracked jokes about those staff who seemed to cross behind the chair too many times just to be seen from the front. I also started attending more meetings behind closed doors to reach agreements that would be reenacted before the cameras the next day. It’s a lot more work to do everything twice, and sometimes the reenactment on camera didn’t go according to the script, so the chair would hastily recess to repair the damage...I object to televising every utterance every minute of every closed door meeting because the meeting will be impaired...It may be a futile plea, but.. human beings need interaction to try out ideas and to gauge support without being crucified for trying something that wasn’t adopted anyway. The more scrutiny beyond a reasonable amount, the less useful business gets done.
– House Staff Davis 2010 – Cameras and Congress (Ezra Klein)

D’Angelo 2016 – Twitter

State open meetings laws are preventing local officials from engaging citizens online for fear of inadvertently having what would be legally considered a meeting that would not meet other requirements such as public notice and public access. At the federal level, the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act is preventing the exchange of knowledge between the government and private sector. The purpose of the law was to prevent federal agencies from having back-room consultations with corporate executives and other entrenched sources, but the requirements for obtaining public input have grown so complex under the act that today the law is probably preventing federal agencies from getting the best knowledge.
– Tauberer 2014 – Unintended Consequences of Transparency
There are still some cases where closed mark-ups are better. We wouldn’t have had 150 amendments to the energy bill if the lobbyists hadn’t been there – we'd only have had 10 or 15.
– Rep Staggers (D-WV) 1973 – Senate and House Open Up their Sessions
Opponents of the (transparency) rule warned that it would encourage members to show off for the press and allow lobbyists to intrude on deliberations...One staff member said the open mark-up sessions slowed the committee’s work when it was dealing with controversial legislation, because members became “more vocal” for the benefit of lobbyists – and for reporters who might quote them in the next day's papers. Lobbyists had been known to hand members notes with suggested amendments, he said, and “sometimes you even had applause and the chair had to bang for order.”
– CQ Quarterly 1973 – Senate and House Open Up their Sessions
The hubris that as we get more educated and we know more we can handle more government responsibility, and when we fail we make possible the kind of polarization, the kind of capture by special interest, the capture by the most partisan of our society.
– Cain 2016 – Stanford talk: “Is our Government too Open?”
Contrary to the naive sirens of maximum democracy, greater transparency is as much a problem for good governance as it is a solution.
– Cain 2016 – Stanford talk: “Is our Government too Open?”

Wood 2003 – Founding Fathers and Public Opinion

Markets and states seek to capture transparency arrangements for their own goals, which may not necessarily be in line with assumed normative linkages between transparency, democracy and participation.
– Mol 2010 – The Future of Transparency
Since the Sunshine Rule, markup sessions are very popular events in the legislative process...Cueing up for a markup, and sweating the markup line is part of the lobbyist’s job.
– Zorack 1990 – The Lobbying Handbook
We focus on the dynamics of representation that emerged out of the 1970 Legislative Reorganization Act. On balance these moves toward transparency have had tremendously negative consequences. Consistent with the theory, increases in transparency were followed by increased narrow-interest lobbying, wasteful and pernicious legislative gamesmanship, increased partisanship, and more.
– David King 2017 – MPSA submission abstract
As long as it is also believed that representatives should exercise a degree of independent judgement, then transparency can also have costs. I have argued that recent discussions of transparency in government have often overlooked this fact... With regard to polarization, while one might think that the institutional changes of the past forty years to promote openness in government should logically have reduced opinion polarization, the theoretical model presented here suggests why they may have actually had the opposite effect.
– Stasavage 2006 – Polarization and Publicity
Though openness in government has obvious benefits, recent scholarship has devoted less attention to the possibility that it might also have costs. I use a formal framework to investigate the effect of public versus private decision making on opinion polarization. Existing work emphasizes that public debate helps to reduce polarization and promote consensus, but I argue that when debate takes place between representatives the opposite may be true.
– Stasavage 2006 – Polarization and Publicity
Most important — and completely ignored by the champions of transparency — is the fact that even the most conscientious citizens, dedicated to following public affairs, have but one vote to weigh in on myriad issues. Most of the time, citizens cannot vote up or down any specific program. Exceptions include some local or state initiatives, such as bonds for schools or referenda on social issues like gay marriage. However, most of the time, especially at the national level, voters cannot be in favor of, say, much more funding for climate change, only a little more funding for ocean exploration, and less funding for bombers (or any such other combination). Rather, all they can do is vote up or down their representative, who, in turn, votes on many scores of programs.
– Etzioni 2014 – Atlantic – Transparency is Overrated
Since the markup session involves the refinement of language, resolving conflict on concepts, and differences of opinion on the ultimate intent of a bill under consideration, the markup sessions are usually closed to the general public and to lobbyists. This has caused some consternation among lobbyists, since they think that the “give and take” inherent in these sessions should be subject to public scrutiny and to their influence...[But] those not familiar with the inner workings of the legislative process often misinterpret the markup sessions as “closed” sessions in the sense of secret deliberations. All members of Congress know that the markup session is deliberation in its finest form.
– Curtis & Westerfield 1992 – Congressional Intent
Almost everyone connected with the process agrees the legislation being written would be even more riddled with gifts to special interests if it were being done in public. Supporters of closed sessions argue that it speeds the process since members don’t feel as much need to posture on issues for an audience and that it provides protection from lobbyists for special interests.
– Donosky 1985 – Tax Reform Behind Closed Doors
There are times, perhaps, when issues are better resolved in a more private and orderly environment than in the committee room open to the media and the public. This is accomplished, however, through “executive sessions” of the full committee, and not with lobbyists approaching congressmen one by one, separate and apart. Quiet diplomacy and compromise are hard to accomplish in the glare of news cameras and when parties to the hearing are competing for the public spotlight.
– Curtis & Westerfield 1992 – Congressional Intent
With the waning of the civil rights and anti-war movements at the beginning of the 1970s, Common Cause provided an avenue for continued political participation by affluent whites, many of whom had been active in the presidential campaigns of Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy in 1968, and of George McGovern in 1972. Although a part, and a significantly influential part, of the Democratic constituency, the views of Common Cause activists epitomize elite distrust of a basic element of politics, and of Democratic politics in particular: the bartering and trading of votes, favors, jobs, and other benefits, often behind closed doors, which make the negotiation and resolution of much larger issues possible, facilitating those compromises essential to the operation of government, particularly in the pluralistic, non-ideological politics of the United States.
– Edsall 1984 – The New Politics of Inequality
The new aim was to clean up government, to impose a system of ethical norms on elected officials,... to insure public access to official proceedings...These changes unquestionably increased public access to both the legislative and executive branches of government, although it is curious to note that there are still no representatives of the general-interest press and television at the overwhelming majority of congressional committee sessions. Instead, public access to these meetings is used primarily by lobbyists and publications catering to special-interest groups. Similarly, the Freedom of Information Act is used far more by corporations seeking to gain an advantage over, or information about, competitors than for the disclosure of governmental activity to the general public. Along the same lines, campaign reforms have made information on sources of political financial support more accessible, but these reforms have given institutional legitimacy to many of the practices reformers were struggling to restrict.
– Edsall 1984 – The New Politics of Inequality
During the past generation many of the gatekeepers of the old political order were swept aside. The governmental process became more permeable as political institutions and processes became increasingly open to popular participation and increasingly subject to popular influence. The 1960s protesters demanded “power to the people,” and apparently they got it. The great irony, then, is that after this explosion of openness and the transfer of power to the people, turnout in elections fell and trust in government plummeted. Against all natural expectations, Americans liked their government better, trusted their leaders more, and voted in higher numbers in the bad old days when party bosses chose nominees in smoke-filled rooms; when several dozen old White men (mostly Southerners) ran Congress; when it was more difficult to get a hearing in court; when legislatures, agencies, city councils, and local boards made decisions behind closed doors; when big business, big labor, and big agriculture dominated the interest group universe; and when politicians didn’t have the tools to figure out what their constituents wanted. Why?
– Fiorina 2012 – Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation
Overall, our review [of transparency and accountability studies] found that much of the current evidence relies on untested normative, positivist assumptions and under-specified relationships between mechanisms and outcomes. Much of the empirical work reviewed is based on poorly articulated, normatively-inspired ‘mixes’, that draw unevenly from the concepts of transparency, accountability, good governance and empowerment. Virtually none of the literature gathered explores possible risks or documents negative effects or arising from TAIs, although some begins to note these at an anecdotal or speculative level.
– Gaventa & McGee 2011 – Impact of Transparency & Accountability (evidence)

Warren & Mansbridge 2013 – Negotiating Agreement

Nothing in the Constitution requires public sessions of Congress, let alone public hearings of its committees or public votes. In fact, the Constitution makes no mention of committees at all. One of the first decisions of the First Continental Congress in September of 1774 was to keep its proceedings secret, the custom of the colonial assemblies. Likewise, the Constitutional Convention’s proceedings in 1787 were secret. However, one of the rules proposed for the Convention would have permitted any member to call for the yeas and nays on any matter voted and the printing in the minutes of the names for and against. According to James Madison’s notes, Rufus King of Massachusetts objected to the rule on grounds that it was unnecessary since acts of the Convention were not binding on constituents. Moreover, he argued that such a record of votes would be “improper as changes of opinion would be frequent in the course of the business and would fill the minutes with contradictions.” George Mason seconded King’s objection. A record of the opinion of members “would be an obstacle to a change of them on conviction,” and, when promulgated in the future, “must furnish handles to the adversaries of the Result of the Meeting.” The rule was subsequently dropped by unanimous consent.
– Wolfensburger 2000 – Congress and the People
It is expected our doors will be shut, and communications upon the business of the Convention be forbidden during its sitting. This, I think, myself, a proper precaution to prevent mistakes and misrepresentation until the business shall have been completed, when the whole may have a very different complexion from, that in which the several crude and undigested parts might, in their first shape, appear if submitted to the public eye.
– Mason 1789 – The Constitutional Convention
The conventional wisdom among judges, legislators, the public — and especially the media — is that “open meetings” are a good thing. As a generalization, it is certainly a superficially attractive proposition. On closer examination...open meetings laws of the federal government and forty-eight other states, have only made the inherent problems worse. To capture all discussions merely because they are called deliberations is an impossibility. To try to do so only guarantees that fewer discussions and deliberations will take place, and that fewer wise decisions will be made.
– Johnson 1994 – Open Meetings and Close Minds
Newspapers and television corporations and their litigation and lobbying organizations are the most vigorous proponents of openness of meetings unless, of course, it is the media’s records or meetings that are at stake.
– Johnson 2994 – Open Meetings and Close Minds

Zelizer 1998 – Taxing America

Lobbyists...have a kind of nuisance impact. They can make life somewhat unpleasant for officials who do not go along with them: It is embarrassing to vote against someone who is watching.
– Milbrath 1963 - The Washington Lobbyists
To appreciate one of the central virtues of secret balloting, consider the fact that in a number of organizations, the leadership, for obvious reasons, insists that the preferences and opinions of the rank and file be revealed through a hand count instead of a secret ballot. Transparency, in that case, is of way of controlling the membership.
– Albert Breton 2007 – The Economics of Transparency in Politics
Leaders and members regularly set up roll-call (transparent) votes in full knowledge that these votes will have no effect on policy outcomes, but they nevertheless stage them for messaging purposes – that is, to define the differences between the parties in hopes of making their party look more attractive to voters or key constituencies than the opposition. (intentionally driving partisanship)
– Lee 2016 – Insecure Majorities
I feel the committee produces a better bill behind closed doors. There is less posturing, less playing to the audiences. We are able to move much more quickly and I think, in the end, we do a better job.
– Rep Gradison 1985 – Rewriting Tax Code (Fessler)
With a closed markup you can always say to lobbyists or constituents that you fought like a tiger for their position and asked for a record vote, but not enough members raised their hands. Members almost feel obligated to demand a record vote in public, and then you have members voting in a way they don’t really want.
– Rep Don Pease 1985 – Rewriting Tax Code (Fessler)
My bottom line is that closed mark-ups can often produce better legislation and therefore serve the public interest.
– Rep Don Pease 1984 – Opening up Congress
Trying to make government more accountable has backfired...And yet, when government seems to fail, Americans habitually resort to the same solutions: more process, more transparency, more appeals to courts. Each dose of this medicine leaves government more sluggish. To counter the ensuing disappointment, reformers urge yet another dose. After Speaker Tip O’Neill retired from Congress, in 1987, an interviewer asked him how the House of Representatives had changed over his 35 years of service. He memorably answered, “The people are better. The results are worse.” His answer might be generalized across the American system of government: the process is better (at least as better is conventionally defined: more transparent, more participatory), but the results are worse.
– Frum 2014 – The Transparency Trap
Reformers keep trying to eliminate backroom wheeling and dealing from American governance. What they end up doing instead is eliminating governance itself, not just in the White House but in Congress, too.
– Frum 2014 – The Transparency Trap
Procedures such as voice votes or closed committee meetings which screened legislators from public scrutiny...these defenses against pressure-group power have been weakened or have disappeared.
– Wilson 1981 – Interest Groups in the United States

CQ 2013 – How Congress Works

*NOTE: In 1990, Mitchell passed the most significant environmental legislation since the late 1960s. And in order to do it, he reversed the notions of the 1970s transparency.

During the 1980s there was some retreat from the [sunshine] reforms, including votes by a number of key panels to close their doors during consideration of major legislation. Votes to close committees had to be conducted in open session by a roll call with a quorum present. The House Ways and Means Committee, perhaps the most heavily lobbied committee in the House, chose to close its doors to write such landmark legislation as a historic tax-overhaul bill in 1985 and trade and catastrophic illness insurance bills in 1987. Ways and Means chair Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., argued: “It’s just difficult to legislate. I'm not ashamed about closed doors. We want to get the product out.” Other panels – notably House Appropriations subcommittees – also met privately to draft legislation. Sometimes committees’ decisions were made by small groups of members behind the scenes and then ratified in open session. Defenders of closed sessions argued that committee members were more candid, markups more expeditious, and better laws written away from lobbyists’ glare.
– CQ 2013 – How Congress Works
Most of the studies of the Congress of the 1950s emphasized additional techniques, which the legislator could use to avoid unwelcome pressure from interest groups. Many of these turned on adroit use of Congressional procedure. Rather than oppose an interest group publicly, thus encouraging retaliation, legislators could have a ‘voice vote’ in which the position of each individual would not be recorded. Legislators could vote for a general position favored by interest groups, but could support amendments undermining the bill. Legislators could acquiesce in the adoption of conference-committee reports which were worded in such a way that they electively sabotaged the bill they supposedly approved.
– Wilson 1981 – Interest Groups in the United States
There is a type of transparency project that should raise more questions than it has – in particular, projects…such as the ones (these are the really sexy innovations for the movement) to make it trivially easy to track every possible source of influence on a member of Congress, mapped against every single vote that the member has made. These projects assume that they are seeking an obvious good. No doubt they will have a profound effect. But will the effect of these projects – at least on their own, unqualified or unrestrained by other considerations – really be for the good? Do we really want the world that they righteously envisage?
– Lessig 2009 – Against Transparency
Open meetings, open rules, and unlimited recorded votes seemed like good ideas when they were proposed, and they were backed by Common Cause and others who sought to reduce the power of special interests. Unfortunately, these reforms were based on a faulty understanding of the mechanisms that allow for citizens’ control. We now know that open meetings filled with lobbyists, and recorded votes, on scores of particularistic amendments, serve to increase the powers of special interests, not to diminish them.
– Arnold 1990 (Princeton) – The Logic of Congressional Action
The alternative route for those who seek to increase citizens’ control of government is to reform congressional procedures...so that legislators are responsive to general interests as well as group interests. Although this was the intent of those who reformed procedures in the 1970s, many of the reforms have had the opposite effect. Reformers demanded that all committee meetings must be open, but all this openness has actually allowed narrowly based interest groups to monitor legislators more closely and has thereby made legislators more responsive to group interests. Reformers demanded an end to the closed rule because it was antidemocratic, but most of the amendments proposed without benefit of the rule have been particularistic proposals that serve group interests. Reformers demanded an end to secret, unrecorded votes, but the increased reliance on recorded votes has actually made it easier for narrow groups to hold legislators accountable because most of these votes are on particularistic amendments.
– Arnold 1990 – The Logic of Congressional Action

Longstreth 1983 – Washington Post
The Government-in-the-Sunshine Act isn’t working

Obey, in an interview, blamed much of the push for secrecy on lobbyists. “You have a number of members frustrated because things they have said or done in open markups have been garbled by trade association newsletters and lobby groups,” he said. “Also, you have a feeling that the lobby groups in this country have become so single-minded and so intense that maybe it’s better to operate behind closed doors. You sometimes wonder who is having more influence – the lobbyists or the members.”
– Rep. Obey D-Wi 1979 – Conference Committees Open Doors (CQ)
The typical American solution to perceived government dysfunction has been to try to expand democratic participation and transparency. Almost all of these reforms failed in their objectives of creating higher levels of accountable government. The reason is that democratic publics are not in fact able by background or temperament to make large numbers of complex public policy choices; what has filled the void are well-organized groups of activists who are unrepresentative of the public as a whole. The obvious solution to this problem would be to roll back some of the would-be democratizing reforms, but no one dares suggest that what the country needs is a bit less participation and transparency.
– Fukuyama 2014 – Political Order and Political Decay

One former senator I know, who has decried the deterioration of comity in Congress, noted that the most pleasurable moments of his career were spent on the intelligence committee, whose secrecy allowed members to say for once what they honestly believed.
– Fukuyama 2015 – The Limits of Transparency

Straus 2012 – The Rise of Roll Call Votes (pdf 3.3MB)

For information to be accurate and accessible, transparency requires the kind of regulation that proponents claim it is supposed to replace.
– Etzioni 2014 – Transparency is Overrated
Transparency provides users with the illusion of openness while actually serving to obfuscate.
– Etzioni 2014 – Transparency is Overrated
Sometimes the many calls you hear for more transparency in the workings of government may also be wrong...Negotiations cannot be public, as the parties will not be able to talk freely and frankly enough to do the work necessary to reach an integrative solution.
– Mansbridge 2010 – Against Accountability
Legislative secrecy…has been part of the policymaking process from Congress’s very beginning, and it remains an integral aspect of the lawmaking process. The Framers – who drafted the U.S. Constitution in closed meetings – even included a secrecy provision in that document. Article I, Section 5, states, “Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy.” Moreover, when the first Senators gathered in New York for their first session [in 1789], they seemed to take it for granted that they would meet behind closed doors.
– Oleszek 2011 – Secrecy and Transparency
Transparency theory’s flaws result from a simplistic model of linear communication that assumes that information, once set free from the state that creates it, will produce an informed, engaged public that will hold officials accountable. To the extent that this model fails to describe accurately the state, government information, and the public, as well as the communications process of which they are component parts, it provides a flawed basis for open government laws.
– Fenster 2006 – The Opacity of Transparency
Checking the ways other people vote is likely to be driven by private concerns, not by a concern for the common good. Vote checking, then, is likely to be performed for the wrong reasons.
– Manin 2015 – Secrecy and Publicity
Committees now open their proceedings to the public. Many are televised. All of this allows lobbyists to keep a close eye on events—and to confirm that the politicians to whom they have contributed deliver value. In short, in the name of “reform,” Americans over the past half century have weakened political authority. Instead of yielding more accountability, however, these reforms have yielded more lobbying, more expense, more delay, and more indecision.
– Frum 2014 – The Transparency Trap

Payne 1991 – Culture of Spending

Since the 1960's...legislatures, parties and other administrative agencies have sought to make their workings more transparent and responsive to the popular will. Yet the unintended consequence of this “democratization of democracy” is that all these institutions have become prey to the activities of professional lobbyists. Open committee meetings in Congress; primary elections to select delegates to national political conventions; changes to the system of campaign funding; the rise of referendums in state and municipal politics -- together, these well-intentioned innovations have tended to debase the political process.
– Niall Ferguson 2003 – Overdoing Democracy (NYTimes)
Human experience teaches us that those who expect public dissemination of their remarks may well temper candor with a concern for appearances and for their own interest to the detriment of the decision-making process.
– Justice Burger 1974 – Supreme Court
I think TV is the biggest evil that has come to the House. Speaker O’Neill predicted what would happen...We now have four hundred and thirty-five potential stars of daytime television who are acutely aware that there are cameras in the chamber. They use them to get messages out. They plan for sound bites, things that can be quickly snatched by the evening news. It’s created a nastiness and a level of personal attack that was unheard of.
– Donnald Anderson – Kessler 1997 (Inside Congress)
Indeed, in the days when Appropriations committees saw their mission as cutting spending rather than maximizing it, appropriators carried out virtually all of their activities, including hearings, behind closed doors... William Natcher, D-Ky., closed his markups after taking over the Labor-HHS Subcommittee in 1979, arguing that it would be too difficult to put together a fiscally responsible bill if special interests could record how every member voted on every amendment. The temptation to vote yes on everything would be too great.
– Hager 1991 – Behind Closed Doors (CQ Magazine)
A huge percentage of time is spent on how to use the political process to create a vote that will embarrass the other side. You basically have people working to make each other look as bad and stupid as possible.
– Rep Eric Fingerhut – Kessler 1997 (Inside Congress)
Disclosure also induces policymakers to distort the process of information gathering and evaluation. In contrast, when no information can be disclosed, the government has no incentive to manipulate information. Secrecy is therefore effective at protecting the integrity of the decision-making process.
– Patacconi & Vikander 2013 – Misuse of Info for Public Debate
Members…at one time did not have to choose between the goals of maximizing reelection prospects and legislating in the national interest, the new transparency and interest group attentiveness to voting records, combined with the rewards of campaign contributions for acceptable conduct, forced that choice more and more often.
– Wolfensberger 2012 – Getting Back to Legislating
In some cases, members may request a roll call vote in an effort ot put a political opponent on the record. More often than not, this happens for measures that are politically unpopular for the opposition party. In making these requests (often requests from lobbyists), members are using the electronic voting system to potentially score political points or stop legislation they are opposed to...these measures are often designed to ‘kill’ the underlying piece of legislation if they are adopted.
– Straus 2012 – The Rise of Roll Call Votes
Probably the most significant amendment relating to the legislative procedure of the House adopted during debate on the 1970 Act (and nearly the only provision of the measure to generate any notable public interest) was the proposal – sponsored by 182 members – to record House members’ names on teller votes, either by House tally clerks or electronic equipment, with publication of the voting in the Congressional Record as has been done with roll-call votes. Under the prior procedure, dating back to early British parliamentary practice, only the total votes on each side of a teller vote, which takes place in the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union, were published. Since any amendment defeated while the House sits in Committee of the Whole cannot be the subject of a later record vote when the Committee rises, members could vote anonymously to defeat an amendment they might feel obligated to support if their position were to be made public. Most amendments to legislation adopted in the House are decided by voice, standing, or teller votes, all – until the 1970 act – unrecorded. With recordation of teller votes, the number of members voting and thus participating in the amending process has been increased, and the outcome of the vote occasionally changed.
– Hopkins 1972 – Congressional Reform: Toward a Modern Congress
In 2006, the new Democratic majority in the U.S. Congress, having campaigned against “earmarks” (targeted expenditures),began to publish which lawmakers had voted for and obtained them. Here transparency, not secrecy, yielded perverse results: earmarks increased, in part because legislators saw what other legislators were getting and demanded more, in part because interest groups could more easily monitor whether legislators were delivering the goods.
– Vermeule 2010 (Harvard Law) – Open-Secret Voting
In the Italian Parliament of the 1970s and 1980s, the practice was that bills designated as issues of confidence by the government would be voted upon first by open ballot, then by secret ballot. The results frequently differed. In 1986, Bettino Craxi’s government (widely regarded as one of the most corrupt and intimidating in history) won the open vote of confidence by a margin greater than 100, only to be defeated on the secret ballot. Craxi was forced to resign.
– Vermeule 2010 (Harvard Law) – Open-Secret Voting
Open voting can induce posturing, political correctness, or, what is equally bad, bending over backwards to signal that the voter is not politically correct; it also makes possible credible commitments to corrupt bargains with other voters or third parties (special interests or other members of Congress).
– Vermeule 2010 (Harvard Law) – Open-Secret Voting
The congressional sunshine initiative became a tool for the very special interests whose power the reforms were supposed to dilute. Corporations and lobbying groups have seized on the open hearings to help them hold legislators accountable as never before.
– Hamilton 1984 – The Washington Post – Opening Up Congress
During the closed House Ways and Means Committee mark-up, the action was brisk and lobbyists and the press were kept outside, littering the halls of the Longworth House office building with candy wrappers and cigarette butts. On the (open) Senate side, mark-up sessions were long and sometimes chaotic. The drafting took weeks. Everything was subject to change, with lobbyists reversing key votes. What took weeks on the (open) Senate side took two days in (closed) Ways and Means. And what took the better part of a week on the Senate floor and ended at dawn after a punishing 19-hour session, took just hours on the House floor.
– Hamilton 1984 – The Washington Post – Opening Up Congress
That transparency checks corruption is an article of faith among reformers, but its benefits are elusive. This paper offers five core arguments: First, most transparency policies miss much of what many citizens regard as corrupt. Second, even for the sorts of corruption directly targeted by transparency reforms, effects will often be minimal. Third, transparency can actually make corruption worse. Fourth, transparency can help powerful interests protect their advantages while weakening countervailing forces. Fifth, for transparency to check corruption, the data it reveals must be used in organized and sustained ways. While transparency will always have a place as an aspect of good governance, when it comes to corruption the alternatives may be counterintuitive – for example, “blinding” some processes that are now publicly disclosed. Understanding these problems is essential if we are to improve on the indifferent results of reform and address the political malaise afflicting many liberal democracies.
– Johnston 2018 (draft) – The Sunlight Paradox
The deliberation and the decisions have to happen someplace. And in the 1970s when the conference committees would rule between the House and the Senate they have to take a bill and make it identical, they use to be private. They became public under a law in the 1970s and then more people wanted to be on these committees and the cameras were there, the press was there. So, they ended up having to make decisions, where? During the bathroom breaks. And the decisions were made in the Senators only bathrooms. And they would just huddle in there…so all this distortion happens. Increasingly what we see, on TV, is just for public consumption. Because everybody’s watching, so they just grandstand. You don’t get the same kind of deliberation…I also resonate with the idea that trust is central to it all.
– David King 2014 – Tensions in Transparency (Harvard talk)
The more visible any action, the more that competing pressures – from the president, interest groups, and the public generally – come into play; the greater the extent and intensity of such pressures, the less likely members will be to defer to party leaders and support party line.
– Rieselbach 1994 – Congressional Reform
With committee proceedings and voting matters of public record, lawmakers can no longer hide behind closed doors and unrecorded votes; they must take care to protect their political futures. The presence of lobbyists and administrative officials at public sessions – where they can monitor members’ behavior, offer texts of amendments, and notify their employers when and where to apply pressure – may make it more difficult for committees to act decisively. Increasingly, they have resorted to “executive” or “informal” sessions, held prior to official meetings, where members can talk freely and develop compromises without the intrusive presence of outsiders.
– Rieselbach 1994 – Encyclopedia of Policy Studies
However, other data — especially evidence assembled by behavioral economists — strongly indicate that people are neither as able to process information nor as likely to act on it as transparency theory presumes. Hence, in situations in which adverse outcomes have a relatively high disutility (e.g., there is a high probability that they will cause death, serious bodily damage, or loss of one’s home or life’s savings) or the information is complex (e.g., medical information), drawing on other sources of regulation in addition to transparency seems called for. Administrative reform cannot, however, deliver on transparency’s metaphoric promise. The state’s large, organizationally and physically dispersed public bureaucracies perform a variety of functions and make a staggering number of decisions of varying importance, not all of which can be viewed before the fact or even easily reviewed later. The state is too big, too remote, and too enclosed to be completely visible. The very nature of the state, in other words, creates the conditions of its obscurity. It can never be fully transparent, at least not in the sense that the term and its populist suspicions of the state require. Overinvestment in transparency as a metaphor leads open government advocates to lament insufficiently effective administrative laws, while the debate over how best to make the government open too often focuses on how to make the state permanently and entirely visible rather than on devising means to improve public oversight and education.
– Etzioni 2010 – Is Transparency the Best Disinfectant?
In some cases, particularly when sharply conflicting interests must be accommodated, freedom from the pressure of public opinion may be desirable. Moreover, public scrutiny of the government’s decision-making process might have an adverse effect on government decisionmakers. Officials might be reluctant to request information lest they create a public image of ignorance.
– Justice Department Spokesman 1978
– Kennedy – Advocates of Openness
Congress’s deliberations are more accessible and transparent to the public than those of perhaps any other kind of organization.
– Oleszek 2014 – Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process
Without reporters or lobbyists in the room, senators are free to debate difficult decisions and make deals without the pressures to posture or conform to narrow ideological or parochial views.
– Shogan 2012 – (Straus) Party and Procedure
By far the most significant anti-secrecy provision in the 1970 act dealt with disclosure of House members’ votes in Committee of the Whole. The House often makes its most important policy decisions in that committee, but for 180 years its precedents had forbidden the recording of names in these votes. Under the new rule, each member’s name and vote was to be recorded upon the demand of 20 or more members.
– Kravitz 1990 – Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970
If the United States is to correct the harm caused by the recent secrecy culture, advocates who favor greater government openness must acknowledge that there are legitimate secrets. Transparency proponents must better understand the rationales for legitimate secrets.
– Schwarz 2015 – Democracy in the Dark
The Founders faced a paradox at the heart of democracy. For the government to be effective, it needs to be able to act secretly—in some cases, to protect democracy from its enemies, both external and internal...Congress exercises oversight over the executive’s secret activities, including military and intelligence actions. But it cannot do so publicly without compromising those very activities, and so instead a limited number of lawmakers receive secret briefings on a regular basis...The normal means for deterring government abuse—oversight, transparency, institutional competition—are inconsistent with the premise that secrecy is necessary.
– Posner 2013 – Before You Reboot (New Republic)
The reform of longest lasting significance provided that House votes in the Committee of the Whole be recorded on request, which ended the secrecy often surrounding members’ votes on important measures.
– David King 1995 – Encyclopedia of the US Congress
If legislators had been personally opposed to tax reform, all they had to do was insist that the sun must shine on any tax bill, knowing that sunshine would have destroyed tax reform
– Arnold 1990 – The Logic of Congressional Action
For every example...where transparency seemed to produce more accountable and effective governance—there is another where transparency either had no effect or produced a backlash that further insulated public officials from accountability to citizens.
– Kosack & Fung 2013 – Does Transparency Improve Governance?
Just making important data available won’t cause political change. Justice Brandeis’s clever aphorism to the contrary, sunlight is not in fact the best disinfectant; actual disinfectant is. Sunlight just makes it easier for people to look at the pus.
– Aaron Swartz 2006 – Disinfecting the Sunlight
It’s hard to think of any good examples of transparency work accomplishing anything, except perhaps for more transparency.
– Swartz 2006 – When is Transparency Useful?
Because of familiar collective action problems, well-organized groups, who monitor legislative activity closely, are much better situated than the mass electorate to secure real accountability from incumbent legislators. And these groups have more resources for demanding accountability; they have not just individual votes with which to threaten lawmakers, but the ability to aggregate many votes and to withhold or deploy resources like lobbyist assistance, contributions, and the threat of independent spending. Unorganized groups do not enjoy these advantages and often lack the ability even to push their issues on to the agenda. All of this suggests that the rhetoric of widespread accountability may obscure the reality of too much accountability for some and not enough for many.
– Schacter 2006 – Political Accountability
Given members’ contention that a main reason for closed committee sessions was to bar lobbyists, it was no surprise that Ways and Means was the one panel that had unquestionably retreated from openness. With wide-­ranging authority over taxes, trade, Social Security, health and welfare programs, it was perhaps the most heavily lobbied committee in the House.
         Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., asked critics of closed sessions, “Are you disappointed in the legislation that’s come out of the Ways and Means Committee?”
         Many conceded they were not. “I hate to say it, but members are more willing to make tough decisions on controversial bills in closed meetings,” said Democrat Don J. Pease of Ohio, a former newspaper editor who usually cast the only vote against closing Ways and Means sessions. “In a closed meeting, you can come out and say, ‘I fought like a tiger for you in there, but I lost.’”
         Representatives of the self-described citizens’ lobby, Common Cause, which campaigned for the open-meetings rules approved by the House in 1973 and the Senate in 1975, also recognized that closed sessions, particularly in Ways and Means, at times produced legislation less weighted with special-interest provisions. By 1987, the group had stopped monitoring committees to see which were closing meetings and had stopped protesting when they found violations.
– Calmes 1987 – CQ – Fading Sunshine Reforms
Most senators seem to agree that the recent changes in the rules have made negotiation and political self-sacrifice infinitely more difficult. Open meetings are singled out most often… “There was an enormous give and take,” Pearson [former Senator James B. Pearson, Republican from Kansas] says of the old closed-door committee system. “People could change their minds – as a result of hard bargaining and deliberation. But nobody wants to admit in public that he was wrong.”
– Ehrenhalt 1982 – CQ – Team Spirit of Days Gone By Evades the Senate
Institutional design might fail to increase accountability if it overlooks the fact that even behind closed doors, the actors might attempt to conceal their position, in particular when they negotiate.
– Novak 2015 – Secrecy and Publicity
Publicity does not necessarily increase accountability.
– Novak 2015 – How Publicity Creates Opacity

Novak 2013 – Transparency as Organized Hypocrisy

A representative of a member state X explained that (negative) votes trigger media attention while journalists usually overlook measures adopted without opposition.
– Novak 2015 – How Publicity Creates Opacity
Forcing the publication of votes in an institutional setting that relies on diplomatic practices can have deleterious effects on accountability: In some cases, the publication of votes might operate as a window-dressing device, prompting the public belief that ministers are accountable since they publish their votes, while real monitoring of the decision makers’ stances is not possible.
– Novak 2015 – How Publicity Creates Opacity
Decision makers used to voice their disagreement more frequently when they knew their votes would not be published.
– Novak 2015 – Secrecy and Publicity
The publication of votes – which was supposed to increase the accountability of ministers- actually became an additional incentive for opponents to silence themselves and join the majority.
– Novak 2015 – Secrecy and Publicity
Interviews reveal that the different actors in the legislative process make strategic use of transparency rules over the course of negotiations. In some cases, actors tend to convert transparency rules as they use publicity to put pressure on their opponents.
– Novak 2013 – Transparency as Organized Hypocrisy

Piotrowski 2010 – Transparency and Secrecy

A growing body of empirical evidence and analysis points to the mixed results of transparency and accountability initiatives (TAIs) in terms of improved outcomes. For all of the widely touted success stories, similar interventions have had poor results or even negative consequences in other contexts. For example, participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil, has resulted in increased investment in services for the poor (Ackerman 2004), but it has not been successfully replicated elsewhere (Baiocchi, Heller, and Silva 2011). Social audits in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh have contributed to combating corruption; however, they have been largely unsuccessful in the state of Bihar (Srinivasan and Park 2013; Dutta and others 2014). In Uganda, community scorecards for health services helped reduce under-5 mortality by one-third (Bjorkman and Svensson 2009), but community monitoring of health providers in Sierra Leone had limited results in light of accountability gaps up the chain of command (Grandvoinnet, Aslam, and Raha 2015). Interpreted from the perspective of this Report, TAIs seek to reshape the policy arena by enhancing contestability and, when successful, effectively changing the incentives of decision makers in favor of certain outcomes.
– Grandvoinnet 2017 – Transparency to Accountability (World Bank)
The United States is an especially interesting example of how transparency complicates political bargaining. Committee meetings in the House of Representatives and the Senate were long held behind closed doors, but in the 1970s, procedural changes adopted by the House and the Senate opened committee meetings to the public and the press ( – Rieselbach 1994). There are strong indications that these procedural changes had detrimental effects on lawmaking, reducing the willingness of House members and senators to seek political compromises. Ehrenhalt (1982) (cited in Warren & Mansbridge 2013 – Political Negotiation) argues that the new rules “made negotiation and political self-sacrifice infinitely more difficult” and Binder and Lee (2015, 253) argue that the “move toward greater transparency in congressional operations” has become a “double-edged sword,” offering several examples of how transparency has undone negotiations over important policy decisions in Congress.
– Lindvall 2017 – Reform Capacity
There is one more type of cost that is left to discuss: the audience costs that decision-makers suffer if agents outside the political decision-making process – such as interest organizations and important groups of voters react negatively to the deals that political decision-makers are striking. In political science, the term “audience costs” was first used in the field of international relations, referring to costs that” arise from the action of domestic audiences concerned with whether the [country’s] leadership is successful or unsuccessful at foreign policy” (Fearon 1994, 577), but I am using it here in the context of domestic politics, referring to the potential consequences of having groups that are not involved in the bargaining process witnessing the bargaining process itself (as opposed to the outcome of the bargaining process) (see Groseclose and McCarty 2001). Audience costs are likely to be lower – and reform capacity is likely to be higher – in systems where political decision-makers can negotiate in secret. This may seem like a paradoxical argument to make, since we typically think of openness and transparency as virtues, not vices. But it is an argument that has been made before. If political decision-makers face “audience costs,” they become reluctant to reveal information and make arguments that they would have been happy to reveal and make in secret communications.
– Lindvall 2017 – Reform Capacity
A main reason for adopting secrecy…has always been the desire to protect voters and jurors from bribery and intimidation. In his statistical analysis of the adoption of the secret ballot in national elections, Przeworski finds that both the extension of the suffrage and the introduction of the secret ballot seem to have resulted from the elites yielding to revolutionary threats by the lower classes, but to some extent also from the desire to protect opposition voters from intimidation by incumbents…As Giannetti shows in her chapter, another effect is that deputies cannot be held accountable by party leaders…Bentham defended the practice of secret voting in the Polish parliament at a time when Poland was under Russian domination. Under certain conditions, it may be more important to prevent an autocrat from punishing representatives than to ensure that the voters can punish them by non-reelection… As a final example, I shall cite the argument made by James D’Angelo that the combination of public voting in Congress and huge private contributions to election campaigns has undermined American democracy, by enabling lobbyists to verify that a representative they have funded votes the way they want.
– Elster 2015 – Secrecy and Publicity
[In secrecy] opposing parties can share their perspectives freely and come to understand the perspectives of others.
– Warren & Mansbridge 2013 – Political Negotiation (partisanship)
Transparency, disclosure and gaming by small cadres of organized actors can go together. Need to consider the whole...I know of many cases where transparency massively backfired. Without other institutions & safeguards, the powerful can benefit more.
– Tufekci 2017 – Transparency and Disclosure
A good two-minute speech can, and often does, take a half-hour for a politician with a national television audience.
– Senator Dale Bumpers 1999 – How Sunshine Harmed Congress
It is not difficult to understand why the concept of secret deliberations, out of earshot of the King, would have special appeal in the colonial assemblies, the Continental Congress, the Congress of the Confederation and the Federal Convention to frame the Constitution. And, indeed, it was frequently utilized in all of these legislative assemblies in early American history.
– Wolfensburger 1992 – Committees of the Whole
A healthy debate on this topic is long overdue. There is shockingly little empirical research to date in political science about transparency, open meeting laws, disclosure rules and related topics.
– Fukuyama 2015 – The Limits of Transparency
The main case against excessive transparency is simple and has three components. First, it undercuts deliberation (have you seen many reasoned open debates in Congress lately?); second, the kinds of disclosure and compliance rules we impose on public officials deters many good people from entering government, and imposes huge burdens on those who do; and finally, it makes very difficult the kind of deal-making that our decentralized system of budgeting requires.
– Fukuyama 2015 – The Limits of Transparency
The Commons met in secret… and without fear of the King freely exchanged its views respecting supplies (claiming that the reason for secrecy in legislatures was to remove the intimidating pressure of the King).
– Wolfensburger 1992 – Committees of the Whole

King & Ignatieff 2014 – Tensions in Transparency (Harvard)

What I did was politics. And to do politics you have to have rooms where what goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas. And then you take it out of the room and you either sell it (present the final legislation) and you either succeed or you fail. But unless you have a deliberative space which is safe, you can’t do what you were sent there to do…Transparency takes us to trust and it takes us to actually what representative democracy is.
– Ignatieff 2014 – Tensions in Transparency (Harvard talk)
If legislators hide their tracks by delegating authority to the executive, by combining all actions into a single omnibus bill, by meeting behind closed doors, or by acting without a recorded vote, then citizens cannot reward or punish their legislators for their individual actions. In contrast, if legislators are forced to take public positions on specific programs, citizens can hold their legislators accountable for the positions they take.
– Arnold 1990 – The Logic of Congressional Action
Even when everyone involved had only the best of intentions, being observed distorted behavior instead of improving it. My findings...suggest that more-transparent environments are not always better. Privacy is just as essential for performance...Total transparency heightens the risk that our irreverence will come back to haunt us—and thus has a chilling effect on experimentation. It it’s also critical for leaders to mitigate transparency with zones of privacy, enabling just the right amount of deviance to foster innovation and productivity.
– Bernstein 2014 – The Transparency Trap
Whether the vote-buying or vote-options approach is used, presumably legislators get paid sufficiently, through some combination of carrots and sticks.
– King & Zeckhauser 2003 – Vote Buying Requires Transparency
When votes look as though they may be close, clever leaders seek out those members, often cross-pressured already, whose votes might be tipped in their direction most cheaply. Leaders then induce them-through compromises, side payments, and threats – to pledge their votes should they be needed.
– King, Zeckhauser 2003 – Vote-Buying Requires Transparency
Revealing the agent’s action leads to conformism. (A great description of partisanship)
– Prat 2005 – The Wrong Kind of Transparency
The concepts of transparency and accountability are closely linked: transparency is supposed to generate accountability. This article questions this widely held assumption. Transparency mobilizes the power of shame, yet the shameless may not be vulnerable to public exposure. Truth often fails to lead to justice.
– Fox 2007 – Uncertain Relationship
Lobbyists learn about legislators. They study their biographies, their voting records, and the predilections of their constituents. They examine members’ policy agendas and how they may be changing, their political situation, their constituents’ views on issues, and the strength (and identity) of their likely opposition in the next election. They scour such vital information as the legislator’s religious affiliation, previous employment, and spouse’s name and occupation, all in an effort to understand how best to persuade the legislator. Federal Elections Commission records and financial disclosure forms provide names of contributors and personal information (such as stocks owned and clubs joined) that can aid the lobbyist in finding ways to influence the member. Lobbyists target members for lobbying by identifying key “swing” votes: legislators who are capable of being persuaded. They then use voting records, election statistics, public statements, and information about the member and the district to find the right “hook” to persuade the right member, including grassroots mobilization that reinforces their inside lobbying efforts.
– Rubin 2000 – Guide to Politics in America
First, the actual evidence on transparency’s impacts on accountability is not as strong as one might expect. Second, the explanations of transparency’s impacts are not nearly as straightforward as the widely held, implicitly self-evident answer to the ‘why’ question would lead one to expect. To evoke the power of sunshine is both intuitive and convincing. Indeed, these principles have guided my past 15 years’ work. Nevertheless, recently, after reviewing the empirical evidence for the assumed link between transparency and accountability, I have come to the conclusion that one does not necessarily lead to the other.
– Fox 2007 – Uncertain Relationship
Reputational concerns lead to the loss of socially valuable information.
– Morris 2001 – Political Correctness
Transparency on action can induce the agent to disregard useful private information and act in a conformist manner. As a consequence, the principal can be better off by committing not to observe the action.
– Patacconi & Vikander 2013 – On Management of Public Opinion
(referring to work of Andrea Prat)
Washington has become subject to what psychologists call the “observer” effect, whereby subjects who know they are being watched alter their behavior… colleagues feared that senators would begin to talk to cameras instead of each other. Predictably, members of Congress now pay little to no attention to their colleagues’ statements. C-SPAN hasn’t simply exposed dialogue that was once partially shrouded; it has entirely changed the substance of the conversation itself.
– Grumet 2014 – The Dark Side of Sunlight (City of Rivals)

Etzioni 2014 - Atlantic Magazine

Moreover, “the individuals in each group announced their choice orally, one by one, to the teller, or rogator. How individuals voted was therefore a very public affair”; the combination of voting procedures and social realities ensured the upper classes a powerful influence over the voting assemblies.
– Yacobson 1995 – The Secret Ballot and its Effects
It is no secret that negotiations are best clone in private. James Madison remembered that, in writing the Constitution [and] the same principles of successful negotiation hold more than two centuries later. Examples of the White House and Congress strategically engaging in quiet negotiations to produce important legislation include the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the budget agreement of 1990, and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001…Low-keyed, good-faith negotiations began shortly after the president submitted his FY 1998 budget, and senior White House officials held a series of private meetings with members of Congress. Unlike the political posturing in late 1995 and early 1996, neither side focused on moving the negotiations into the public arena. Staying private made it easier for both sides to compromise, and they each gained from doing so. For Republicans, the budget agreement capped a balanced-budget and tax-cutting drive that had consumed them since they had taken over Congress in 1995. They won tax and spending cuts, a balanced budget in five years, and a plan to keep Medicare solvent for another decade. Thus, although they did not achieve a radical overhaul of entitlement programs, they did make substantial progress toward their core goals...The decision of President Clinton and the Republican congressional leaders to seize on the opportunity provided by the surging economy and the groundwork laid by the budgets of 1990 and 1993 and to quietly negotiate and compromise, letting everyone claim victory, made the budget agreement possible .
– Edwards 2015 – Solutions to Polarization (Persily)
This seemingly counterintuitive opinion — that outcomes would improve if the process is obscured — is catching on in Washington among political elites of both parties as a way of making a dysfunctional Congress work again.
Miller 2013 – Bring Back the Smoke Filled Room

When we’re in the sunshine, as soon as we vote, every trade association in the country gets out their mailgrams and their phone calls in twelve hours, and complains about the members’ votes. But when we’re in the back room, the senators can vote their conscience. They vote for what they think is good for the country. Then they can go out to the lobbyists and say: “God, I fought for you. I did everything I could.”
– Sen Bob Packwood 1988 – Showdown at Gucci Gulch
Modern scholars have long regarded the change (to secret voting) as a democratic one, lessening the control of the upper classes over the electorate, and enhancing the voters’ effective freedom of choice.
– Yacobson 1995 – The Secret Ballot and its Effects
Roll call votes can be a useful tool to examine certain aspects of legislative behavior. Scholars who choose to use roll call voting as the basis of their studies, however, must consider how electronic voting has changed member behavior. Prior to 1973, members were at the mercy of party leadership, the media, and their own observations when determining how other members were voting. Today, all a member has to do is look up at the display boards and see what color dot appears next to their colleague’s name. The increase in information available in real time to members has undoubtedly changed voting strategies.
– Straus 2012 – The Rise of Roll Call Votes
It must be recognized that there is no way to open up the legislative process to the people without also opening it up to lobbyists and interest groups.
– Bessette 1994 – Mild Voice of Reason

D’Angelo 2016 – On Committee of the Whole

It is possible to have full transparency on the supply side of the equation and… much less than full transparency on the demand side.
– Breton 2007 – The Economics of Transparency in Politics
(This quote highlights a number of the ways for a congressman to ‘sell’ their vote for fame or fortune, all of them relying on transparent/public voting) Different congressmen pursue quite different goals – reelection, power and prestige in the House, the approval of the editorial writers of The New York Times, a good shot at a seat in the US Senate, the framing of policy in the national interest – but congressmen do have goals and try to use their votes on the floor of the House to enhance the probability of attaining them. A few ‘bad’ votes may not significantly alter the congressman’s chances for successful goal attainment, but the innate prudence of ambitious men dictates strenuous efforts to avoid mistakes and to calculate the consequences of their actions and votes as much as possible.
– Matthews & Stimson 1975 – Yeas and Nays
Sometimes we don’t want to take a recorded vote when there are a lot of lobbyists out there... [In a closed session] a member can enter a mild protest about the defeat of an amendment he might otherwise feel compelled to support... Then, when the markup is over, the member can go out into the hall and say to the lobbyist, “I worked to get your amendment adopted but I just got outvoted.”
– Strahan 2011 – The New Ways and Means

Strahan 2011 – The New Ways and Means

Strahan 2011 – The New Ways and Means

Transparency, unlike other forms of regulation, has a major disadvantage: it assumes that those who receive the information released by producers or public officials can properly process it and that their conclusions will lead them to reasonable action. However, the well-known and often-cited findings of behavioral economics demonstrate that very often the public is unable to properly process even rather simple information because of “wired in,” congenital, systematic cognitive biases.
– Etzioni 2014 – Transparency is Overrated
There is, moreover, another way in which the changes of recent years have jeopardized deliberation within Congress. Congressmen are now much more accountable for their actions. There is less they can do in secret. Nearly all committee markup sessions and conference committee meetings are now open to public scrutiny. Votes within committees must be recorded in ways not required a decade ago. The institution of the recorded teller vote on the House floor has reduced the likelihood that important decisions will be made without a record of each congressman’s vote. Largely overlooked, however, in this drive for accountability has been the effect on deliberation. Reasoning on the merits of public policy is not the same thing as registering constituent opinion at each stage of the legislative process. Deliberation requires both some measure of independent judgment by the legislator and a degree of flexibility in the decision-making process that allows for evolving opinion and changes of mind. This is particularly difficult if the public is looking over the legislator's shoulder at each step in the process.
– Bessette 1982 – Is Congress A Deliberative Body?
There is no reason to think that the information emanating from the political environment will be unbiased or naturally lead members to support Pareto-improving reforms.
– Binder 2006 – Governing in a Polarized Age
Simply making information available is not sufficient to achieve transparency. Large amounts of raw information in the public domain may breed opacity rather than transparency.
– Transparency Initiative 2016 – website
And perhaps most important, the partisan character of amending activity changed suddenly with the advent of recorded electronic voting. With new voting procedures in the 1970s, [the minority party] could force [the majority party] to go on the record, often repeatedly, on divisive amendments. [The minority] actively sought ways to challenge committee products, raise ideologically charged issues, and force recorded votes...in order to compel [the majority] to take politically dangerous public positions. The effect, quite naturally, was to heighten the personal and partisan conflict on the floor.
– Smith 1989 – Call to Order
After a few experiments with open conferences in 1974, the House and Senate adopted identical rules requiring conference meetings to be open to the public…The House went a step further in 1977 when it required that the House itself must approve a motion to close a conference's meetings…As a result, members, lobbyists, journalists, and others may observe most formal sessions of most conferences.
– Smith 1989 – Call to Order
The budget resolution was the first bill of genuinely national import to come to the floor after the cameras were turned on. To Speaker O’Neill’s chagrin, the resolution faced forty-one first- and second-degree amendments and the debate stretched over three weeks, setting records for budget resolution debates in the House. O’Neill attributed the multitude of amendments to the presence of television cameras. There is little doubt that several amendments were offered for symbolic purposes... The effects on amending activity of televised sessions, which began in March 1979, were never given a chance to materialize fully. Beginning in late 1979, the shift to more restrictive special rules for major bills prevented the members from fully exploiting the opportunities created by House television.
– Smith 1989 – Call to Order
*NOTE: Smith claims, and it seems evident, that the massive rise of restrictive special rules (a very dangerous and anti-democratic device) has everything to do with the rise of transparency.
Obfuscation is thus compatible with omitting information, transmitting information beyond the possibility of using it or, clearly, transmitting false information.
– Brosio 2007 – The Economics of Transparency in Politics
Congress can now be monitored and influenced as never before. As a result, lobbies, which do most of the monitoring and influencing, have gained power compared with the target of their efforts – the government.
– Zakaria 2003 – Future of Freedom
The theory was that many lobby groups would profit from open sessions and votes... “We got a big lobby effort going,” Conlon said “But it is what you would call a ‘public interest lobby.’ They understand that this bill, with our revisions, is really going to revolutionize this place”... “Now just one minute,” interjected peppery Wayne Hays (D.Ohio). “If you want to write up a bill with a lobbyist sitting at every Member’s elbow, some of you...are going to have a rude awakening”
– Bibby & Davidson 1970 – On Capitol Hill
*NOTE: Richard Conlon was a principal 1970 advocate of congressional transparency, and it was he (along with the support of lobbyists) who focused the push for the LRA sunshine amendments
There are cases in which all the information about a policy is freely available to all, and even fully reported in the media, and, nonetheless, the policy smacks of opacity – or, rather here, of obfuscation. Obfuscation works, not by hiding anything, but in the way the policy and especially its objectives are formulated or framed.
– Salmoon & Wolfelsperger 2007 The Economics of Transparency in Politics
While it is frustrating to stand outside the committee room trying to guess what is going on inside, he thinks everyone benefits in the long run. ‘In a public session there are so many different interest groups eyeballing the congressmen that they’re so torn they end up doing something nonsensical... that’s how we got where we are.’
Harold Scoggins Jr. – Lobbyist for the Oil Industry
Fessler – Rewriting Tax Code (CQ Quarterly 1985)
It’s a real dilemma for liberal reformers. When you look at recent tax bills, the best ones have come out of closed sessions. You take what you can get and hope someday you can get a good bill at an open meeting.
Jeff Drumtra – Ralph Nader representative
Fessler – Rewriting Tax Code (CQ Quarterly 1985)
“We ought to be willing to look the lobbyists in the eyes and make those decisions right out there in public.’” But: “‘In at least some circumstances, you probably get better legislation from closed sessions. Clearly in the type of atmosphere we worked in recently we had to enact some tax provisions that people don’t like, and I think it’s easier to do that in closed session.’ ‘With a closed mark up you can always say to lobbyists or constituents that you fought like a tiger for their position and asked for a record vote, but not enough members raised their hands. Members almost feel obligated to demand a record vote in public, and then you have members voting in a way they don’t really want.’
– Fessler 1985 – Rewriting Tax Code Behind Closed Doors
It is not hard to imagine what happened: The substantive conversations that were once held in the House and Senate chambers were moved to the cloakrooms, or at least to private deliberations held away from C-SPAN’s cameras. At one point the franker debates were still held in committee hearings – though eventually even many of those were put on C-SPAN as well. The real negotiations began to be held in leadership offices. Rather than expand access to decision-making to a wider range of viewers, C-SPAN has in fact done the opposite: It has inadvertently pushed real deliberation further into the shadows by centralizing power among a smaller group of leaders.
– Grumet 2014 – The Dark Side of Sunlight (City of Rivals)
Full rationality requires unlimited cognitive capabilities. Fully rational man is a mythical hero who knows the solutions to all mathematical problems and can immediately perform all computations, regardless of how difficult they are. Human beings are in reality very different. Their cognitive capabilities are quite limited. Modern mainstream economic theory is largely based on an unrealistic picture of human decision making. Economic agents are portrayed as fully rational Bayesian maximizers of subjective utility…However, it is wrong to assume that human beings conform to this ideal.
Selten 1999 – Bounded Rationality
In a complex and uncertain world, humans and animals make decisions under the constraints of limited knowledge, resources, and time. Yet models of rational decision making in economics, cognitive science, biology, and other fields largely ignore these real constraints and instead assume agents with perfect information and unlimited time.
– 2002 Gigerenzer – Bounded Rationality
Progressive reformers, whether Democratic or Republican, have been calling for more “open and democratic” government since at least the 1960s. In fact, the roots of such reform date to Woodrow Wilson and probably even to the Anti-Federalist concern for more simple, direct democracy. Recently, The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein cited as one of “the 13 reasons Washington is failing,” the idea that “too much sunshine can burn” saying “sometimes, it’s easier to resolve disputes in private.” Madison, of course, would concur. The Constitutional Convention succeeded, in part, because the fifty-five delegates met behind closed doors, under strict confidentiality rules. As witness Madison’s Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention, published only after his death in 1836, delegates were able to repeatedly speak their minds and change their minds across the long summer of 1787. Madison clearly did not think the cure to the ills of democracy is more democracy. He created republican, that is, representative, institutions designed to “refine and enlarge the public views.” Viewing the sausage-making of the legislative process, especially under the unblinking stare of the media, has probably not increased citizen trust in government. The decline in trust of government since the 1960s is coincident with transparency reforms.
– Connelly 2013 – Partisan, Polarized, Yet Not Dysfunctional?

James Madison on how transparency drives partisanship

Forcing (transparent/public) votes on divisive “hot-button” issues provides campaign ammunition to party colleagues and supporters back home.
– Oleszek 2015 – Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process
Senators may over several days “cast back-to-back votes on a dizzying array of dozens of amendments,” many designed to provide campaign ammunition (so-called gotcha amendments) for the next election.
– Oleszek 2015 – Congressional Procedures and the Policy Process
Roll-call votes are typically not requested randomly by a disinterested party; they are selected by a purposive actor (such as a party leader) with a vested interest in what the vote will reveal about legislative behavior to a particular audience. Thus, we cannot be confident that we can infer behavior on the unobserved (non-roll-call) votes from the roll- call votes. This disjunct has negative implications for the use of roll- call votes to estimate legislators’ ideal points, the dimensionality of the policy space, and party influence on legislative voting.
– Carrubba, Gabel & Hug 2008 – Legislative Voting Behavior
Each committee first attempted to write a reform bill in public but soon discovered that sunshine was incompatible with reform.
– Arnold 1990 – The Logic of Congressional Action
How can citizens control legislators when most citizens pay scant attention to public affairs? Why should legislators worry about citizens’ preferences when they know most citizens are not really watching them?
– Arnold 1993 – Can Inattentive Citizens Control Representatives?
It’s always better in our industry to have transparency, we’re all the stronger for it.
– McDevitt (Lobbyist) 2017 – Hume Brophy
Potential negative effects that transparency might have on bargaining efficiency…[When] certain special interest groups have undue influence over a decision, then secrecy can have the useful effect of shutting such groups out of the initial stages of the process.
– Stasavage 2005 – Does Transparency Make a Difference?
As the U.S. government has become larger and more open, groupsthat petition it – lobbyists-have become Washington’s greatest growth industry.
– Zakaria 2003 – Future of Freedom
A decade after Congress voted to open all committee sessions to the public in the interests of “government in the sunshine,” some of its most important committees have started closing legislative voting sessions, saying they can get more done behind closed doors…Such closed sessions are held because members have expressed the feeling that they can arrange compromises more easily when lobbyists cannot watch their every move and every decision does not have to recorded formally.
– Rich 1985 – Washington Post
The irony is that we’ve come full circle: Efforts to open up government to the public have, by and large, expanded the tool kit and influence of highly organized and well-funded “special” interests.
– Grumet 2014 – The Dark Side of Sunlight (City of Rivals)