The Informational Theory of Legislative Committees: An Experimental Analysis

We experimentally investigate the informational theory of legislative committees first proposed by Gilligan and Krehbiel [1989] for heterogeneous committees. Two biased committee members provide policy-relevant information to a legislature under alternative legislative rules. Under the open rule, the legislature is free to make any decision; under the closed rule, the legislature is constrained to choose between a member's proposal and a status quo. Our experiment shows that even in the presence of conflicts of interest, the committee members improve the legislature's decision by providing useful information. We also obtain evidence in support of two additional theoretical predictions: the outlier principle, according to which more extreme biases reduce the extent of information transmission; and the distributional principle, according to which the open rule is more distributionally efficient than the closed
rule. When biases are less extreme, we fi nd that the distributional principle dominates the restrictive-rule principle, according to which the closed rule is more informationally efficient. This implies that the outcome is better under the open rule for the legislature. Overall, our
findings provide experimental support for Gilligan and Krehbiel's informational theory.

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