Governments around the world adopt transparency reforms to facilitate accountability. In principle, open proceedings provide citizens with valuable information to evaluate elected officials’ decisionmaking, which incentives lawmakers to follow mass preferences when choosing policies. However, the public’s general lack of knowledge and engagement with the political process may weaken the power of open information, and perhaps instead allow citizens and groups with extreme views to exert relatively more influence in policymaking. We test these competing theoretical perspectives in the context of American state legislatures. We leverage temporal variation in state “sunshine law” adoptions and legislative exemptions to estimate the effects of transparency on a key element of representation—aggregate policy responsiveness. We find a consistent pattern of precisely-estimated negligible effects; legislative transparency exerts minimal influence on the link between mass preferences and state policy. We conclude that, despite their promise, transparency reforms may be insufficient for mitigating democratic deficits.
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