The Illusion of Accountability: Transparency and Representation in American Legislatures

  • 5h 16m
  • Jeffrey J. Harden, Justin H. Kirkland
  • Cambridge University Press
  • 2022

Does open governance strengthen democracy? The Illusion of Accountability contends that it does not. Leveraging a wealth of data from decades of legislative politics in the American states, the book assesses the causes and consequences of 'open meetings laws,' which require public access to proceedings in state legislatures. The work traces the roots of these laws back to the founding constitutions of some states and analyzes the waves of adoptions and exemptions to open meetings that occurred in the twentieth century. The book then examines the effects of these transparency laws on a host of politically consequential outcomes both inside and outside the legislature. This analysis consistently finds that open meetings do not influence legislators' behavior or citizens' capacity to alter that behavior. Instead, a link between transparent legislatures and an expanded system of organized interests is established. This illuminating work concludes that transparency reform only creates the illusion of accountability in state government.

About the Author

Justin H. Kirkland is Associate Professor of Politics and Policy in the Department of Politics and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. He is the co-author of Indecision in American Legislatures (2018) and Roll Call Rebels (2018).

Jeffrey J. Harden is Andrew J. McKenna Family Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and Concurrent Associate Professor in the Department of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Multidimensional Democracy (2016) and co-author of Indecision in American Legislatures (2018).

In this Book

  • Prologue
  • Sunshine in the Statehouse
  • The Open Meetings Movement
  • Measuring Legislative Transparency
  • Compromise
  • Representation
  • Public Demand
  • Attitudinal Consequences
  • The Electoral Connection
  • Does Democracy Require Transparency?
  • References


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