Governments seeking to close political space have a number of tools at their disposal. One popular tactic is to suppress civil society by restricting foreign funding, controlling registration and imposing onerous reporting requirements. Parliaments often aid and abet executives in this process, even in purportedly democratic states. This paper examines when parliaments protect political space by rejecting restrictive civil society laws. In doing so, it identifies several factors that shape the success (or failure) of international efforts to motivate legislatures to defend democracy. Two paired comparisons – one of Kenya and Uganda, and another of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan – expose the importance of local actors and the critical role of the incentives that face individual legislators.