Academic & Insider
Citations on Trans­parency

A growing collection of scholarly and insider citations and quotes which address (and often expressly critique) the problem of excessive accountability and transparency in legislatures.

Compiled June 19, 2017

Citations


You have a feeling that the lobby groups in this country have become so singleminded 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.
– Dave Obey Rep D-Wi 1979
Too much transparency might produce gridlock instead of policy success.
– Oleszek 2011

Mansbridge (Harvard) 2010 - Against Accountability

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 that more transparency in government is always an unalloyed good is a dangerous populist illusion.
– Fukuyama 2015

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

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.
– Martha Hamilton 1984 - The Washington Post
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 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.
– Joseph Bessette “Mild Voice of Reason” 1994
By now, the empirical evidence on the deliberative benefits of closed-door interactions seems incontrovertible.
– Mark Warren & Jane Mansbridge 2013
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.
-- Bruce C. Wolpe, 1990 Lobbying Congress

New York Times 1999 - Bumpers 'How the Sunshine Harmed Congress'

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.
New York Times – Bumpers 1999
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
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.
– Tom Daschle 2014 (City of Rivals)
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 and the American Conservative Union, 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 usee 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 - Let's Vote (The Rise of Roll Call Votes)
Once lobbyists knew your every vote, they used it as ammunition.
– Zakaria 2003 'Future of Freedom'

World Bank Report - Jennie Litvack 2011?

Transparency often imposes direct costs on successful deal making…public attention increases the incentive of lawmakers to adhere to party messages.
– Binder, Lee 2013
The more open a system becomes, the more easily it can be penetrated by money, lobbysts and fanatics.
– Zakaria 2003
Everyone knows that laws which provide a secret ballot have deprived the aristocracy of all its influence.
– Cicero 50 BC
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 - Let's Vote
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.
– Carruba, Gabel, Hug 2008
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.75 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)
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...No Constitution would ever have been adopted by the convention if the debates had been public.
– James Madison
The duty to deliberate well may often be inconsistent with attempts to conduct policy deliberations on the plane of public opinion.
– Joseph Bessette “Mild Voice of Reason” 1994
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.
– Albert Breton 2007 - “The Economics of Transparency in Politics”

Grumet, Jason 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 and Mann (2000, 141-42)
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.
- Jonathan Rauch 2016 - Atlantic Magazine
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
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.
- Bruce Cain 2016 Live Talk
Contrary to the naive sirens of maximum democracy, greater transparency is as much a problem for good governance as it is a solution.
- Bruce Cain Bruce Cain 2015
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. Finally, we call attention to specific new reforms that could reestablish deliberative spaces for legislators.
- David King 2016
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 e¤ect.
- Stasavage 2006
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

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 & The People
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”
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.
– Douglas Arnold 1990 (Princeton) - “The Logic of Congressional Action”
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.
– Francis Fukuyama 2014 - “Political Order and Political Decay”

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
For information to be accurate and accessible, transparency requires the kind of regulation that proponents claim it is supposed to replace.
– Etzioni 2014

Straus, Jacob 2012 - Let's Vote, The Rise of Roll Call Votes (pdf 3.3MB)

Transparency provides users with the illusion of openness while actually serving to obfuscate.
– Etzioni 2014
Sometimes the many calls you hear for more transparency in the workings of government may also be wrong.
– Mansbridge 2010
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.
Mark Fenster 2010
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
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

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.
– Supreme Court (Justice Burger 1974)
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
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 Let's Vote
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)
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 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)

Bass, Brian, Eisen (Brookings 2014)
The only pro transparency ever? (and deeply flawed)

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.
CQ Quarterly – Calmes 1987 'Few Complaints as Doors are Closed on Capitol Hill'

CQ Quarterly – Calmes 1987 'Few Complaints as Doors are Closed on Capitol Hill'

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 (Harvard)
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.
– Rieselback 1994

James D'Angelo

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.
Mark Fenster 2010
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.
– Finance Committee Chair Russel Long
Congress’s deliberations are more accessible and transparent to the public than those of perhaps any other kind of organization.
– Oleszek 2014
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
By far the most significant antisecrecy 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
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
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 (Princeton)
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?'
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 (from Elster)
Publicity does not necessarily increase accountability.
– Novak 2015

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 (from Elster)
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 (from Elster)
Decision makers used to voice their disagreement more frequently when they knew their votes would not be published.
– Novak 2015
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 (from Elster)
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
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
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
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
The idea was to make the process more ‘democratic’, but in practice sunshine measures intensified the access of lobbyists.
– Payne 1991

King, Ignatieff (Harvard) 2014 - Tensions in Transparency

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.
- Michael Ignatieff 2014 (Harvard)
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 (Princeton)
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
Revealing the agent’s action leads to conformism. (A great description of partisanship)
– Prat 2005
The concepts of transparency and accountability are closely linked: transparency is supposed to generate accountability. This article questions this widely held assumption. Transparency mobilises the power of shame, yet the shameless may not be vulnerable to public exposure. Truth often fails to lead to justice.
– Jonathan Fox 2007
Reputational concerns lead to the loss of socially valuable information.
– Morris 2001
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 (referring to work of Andrea Prat)
Washington has become subject to what psychologists call rhe “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
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
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.
– Time Magazine - Zeke Miller 2013

Time Magazine - 2013

Strahan 2011 - The New Ways and Means (Quote 1)

Strahan 2011 - The New Ways and Means (Quote 2)

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.”
- Senator Bob Packwood (from 'Showdown at Gucci Gulch' p260)
Moderm 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
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 - Let's Vote
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.
– Joseph Bessette “Mild Voice of Reason” 1994

James 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
(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
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
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?
– Rep Mahon 1970
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 (from Patashnik Peck 2014) 2006
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 website 2016
Obfuscation is thus compatible with omitting information, transmitting information beyond the possibility of using it or, clearly, transmitting false information.
– Brosio 2007
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'
– Representative Obey as quoted by Schudson 2015
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
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.’
– Lobbyist for the Oil Industry (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.’
– Ralph Nader representative (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.’
A Democratic committee member and former newspaper editor, normally a champion of open meetings
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
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.
Reinhard Selten 1999
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. Introduction to Bounded Rationality
- 2002 Gerd Gigerenzer
Forcing (transparent/public) votes on divisive “hot-button” issues provides campaign ammunition to party colleagues and supporters back home.
– Oleszek 2015
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 Seen and Unseen
Each committee first attempted to write a reform bill in public but soon discovered that sunshine was incompatible with reform .
– Arnold 1990 (Princeton) (About the Ways and Means Committee)
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?
– Douglass Arnold, 1998 (Princeton)


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