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How Cabinet Size and Legislative Control Shape the Strength of Transparency Laws

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Abstract

Prevailing thinking surrounding the politics of secrecy and transparency is biased by assumptions regarding single-party and small coalition governments. Here, the “politics of secrecy” dominates: Leaders delay or resist strong transparency and freedom of information (FOI) policies when they control parliament, and yield to strong laws because of imposition, symbolic ambition, or concessions when they do not. In effect, leaders weigh the benefits of secrecy against gains in monitorial capacity. Their support for strong transparency policies grows as the number of parties in their cabinet rises. So while the costs of surrendering secrecy trump the benefits of strong transparency reforms in single-party governments, in broad multiparty coalitions leaders trade secrecy for tools to monitor coalition “allies.” Drawing on vivid international examples, patterns of FOI reform in Latin America, and an in-depth study of FOI in Brazil, this article generates new theoretical insights into transparency and the “politics of monitoring.”

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