Information and Power in Lawmaking: Russia and the US (very briefly) compared


In his book Legislating in the Dark: Information and Power in the House of Representativesthe political scientist James Curry argues that US Congressional leadership withhold information on bills in order to control the behaviour of members of Congress.

The logic is simple: given the scarcity of time, resources, and expertise, legislators are pressured to rely on information and cues from Congressional leaders, who can increase this pressure by withholding information on legislative initiatives.

For example, the leadership can delay releasing the details of a bill until just before it is scheduled to be debated, thereby reducing the opportunities for independent legislator scrutiny; instead, they defer to instructions.

This is a trick familiar to observers of Russian politics. For example, potentially controversial policy changes are introduced into bills just before second reading during review in the State Duma, meaning that deputies don’t have time to review them before voting.

But this practice isn’t restricted to the executive-legislative relations in Russia: the Ministry of Finance has also used this information-withholding technique to limit pre-parliamentary, inter-ministerial discussion of the budget draft.

As this Vedomosti article states, the Ministry of Finance has begun to circulate budget materials during meetings, rather than before, as is required by procedure. As a result, budget discussions are carried out within the corridors of the Ministry of Finance, largely excluding other actors. This, in turn, makes intra-executive negotiation and compromise even trickier at later stages.





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