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Taxpayers Network Incorporated
The Taxpayers Network Incorporated (TNI) is a Green Bay-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit association that claims that “embracing high taxes will stunt a state's income growth and cause thousands to flee to low tax havens.”
TNI an ALEC Ally in Wisconsin
TNI produces an annual report that compares taxation rates and other factors in all 50 states. TNI has also worked with the Heartland Institute (also an ALEC member), and has long made claims that Wisconsin public employees were overpaid.
Additionally, TNI also acts like an insurance agent for a health insurer that has been accused of exploiting regulatory loopholes to profit by jacking up premiums on their sickest policyholders. Some health insurers sell to individuals by issuing a group policy to an “association” – like TNI and then selling coverage to the association’s “members,” many of whom join the association for a nominal fee in order to get inexpensive health insurance. In the early 2000s, reports emerged of individuals joining TNI so they could buy group insurance with the United Wisconsin Life Insurance Company (UWLIC), only to see their rates skyrocket when they got sick – like a Florida woman who saw her premiums go from $417 to $1,881 a month after she developed breast cancer.
Both TNI and UWLIC (and its parent company, American Medical Security Group) are located in Green Bay, but loopholes in many state laws allow insurance to be regulated based on the state where the “association” is incorporated, rather than the state where an individual resides. TNI was incorporated in Ohio, which had minimal insurance regulation – meaning that state laws against unfair insurance practices in a policyholder’s state generally would not apply to UWLIC insurance sold through TNI. In the early 2000s, both TNI and UWLIC were named as defendants in class action and other lawsuits in states like Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arizona for unfair practices and violating state laws against the practice of “tiering” people into higher-premium categories after they file claims.
In 2002, the Florida Insurance Commissioner suspended UWLIC’s license in the state (although it was overturned on appeal), and a Florida judge determined that the TNI-UWLIC scheme violated state law. UWLIC settled a number of similar lawsuits in the early-to-mid 2000s. Subsequently, ALEC adopted the Health Care Choice Act For States as a “model” bill in 2007. That bill would potentially thwart lawsuits like those faced by TNI and UWLIC by providing that state law does not apply to out-of-state companies selling insurance in the state. In 2011, Sen. Leah Vukmir circulated LRB 0373, a version of the Health Care Choice Act for States in 2011, but the proposal inspired strong opposition from health advocates and was never introduced.
TNI’s Vice-President Cate Zueske was Wisconsin’s Revenue Secretary under Governor Tommy Thompson and is a former Republican state legislator. She is married to former Assembly Speaker John Gard, who was an ALEC member. In 2002, Zueske gave the introduction for Thompson when he was the keynote speaker at ALEC’s Spring Task Force Summit.
TNI is listed on the Wisconsin ALEC scholarship fund report between 2006 and 2009, and for an unknown reason is listed as both contributing to the fund and receiving scholarships. (Data from 2011 and 2012 is not available.) No other name on the accounting spreadsheet for the Wisconsin ALEC scholarship fund is listed as both contributing to the fund and receiving from it. David Steffen, TNI’s Director of External Affairs, was the ALEC private sector co-chair for Wisconsin between 2006 and 2010.
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.