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Book description

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.


‘Does governing in sunshine improve democratic governance? In this authoritative and compelling book, Kirkland and Harden probe the origins and consequences of transparency in U.S. state legislatures. The Illusion of Accountability reveals the dark side of governing in the light: Organizing interests, not American voters, benefit from our commitments to legislative sunshine. A must-read for students, scholars, and reformers alike.'

Sarah A. Binder - Professor of Political Science, George Washington University

‘Transparency laws are so widespread and accepted in American governments that we rarely bother to actually assess their consequences. With impressive clarity and decisiveness, Harden and Kirkland find that these laws are actually making things worse, enabling organized interests to exert greater control over legislatures. This vital text demonstrates the difference between good government and the perception of good government.'

Seth E. Masket - Professor of Political Science, University of Denver

‘This book is a must-read for scholars of state politics, legislative politics, and those who seek data-driven, scholarship-informed perspectives on the causes and consequences of efforts to enhance transparency in lawmaking processes. Those who seek to reform American institutions of democracy will have to wrestle with these important findings.'

Alan E. Wiseman - Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Political Economy, Vanderbilt University

‘This dense, thoroughly researched examination of open meeting laws is both important in itself and a salutary reminder of the importance of empirical studies … Highly recommended.’

E. V. Schneier Source: Choice

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