TOPEKA, Kan. – Abortion provider Dr. George Tiller bought his way into a reception with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius last year at her official residence while he remained under investigation by the attorney general's office.
Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran said Wednesday that Tiller attended an April, 9, 2007, event at Cedar Crest, the governor's residence. She said the reception had been offered as a prize at an earlier fundraising auction for the Greater Kansas City Women's Political Caucus.
"Governor Sebelius donates auction items like a dinner or reception to organizations whose causes she supports," Corcoran said. "We do not control who purchases it."
Her confirmation came only hours after the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue published 13 photos from the event on its Web site. Troy Newman, the group's president, said it obtained copies from someone who attended.
Six of the photos showed Sebelius standing next to someone identified as Tiller, and two showed her shaking hands with that person. Corcoran confirmed that the person is Tiller.
On its Web site, the group described the event as a "lavish secret party" for Tiller, his staff and several other doctors who perform abortions.
Sebelius, a Democrat, is a strong abortion-rights supporter, and she has repeatedly vetoed legislation sought by anti-abortion groups. Earlier this month, the Roman Catholic archbishop for northeast Kansas said Sebelius, who is Catholic, should stop taking Communion until she repudiates her stance and her past actions.
But Sebelius also has successfully positioned herself as a political moderate and attracted votes from some Republicans. She has been mentioned as a potential running mate for Barack Obama, the likely Democratic presidential nominee.
"We've known all along that there's very close ties," Newman said Wednesday. "But I was shocked that the governor would put herself in jeopardy by being so closely associated with this man, particularly in the governor's mansion."
In April 2007, Tiller was under investigation by the attorney general's office over allegations that his Wichita clinic had performed illegal late-term abortions. Tiller is among a few U.S. physicians who perform late-term procedures.
The attorney general's office eventually filed 19 misdemeanor charges in Sedgwick County. It alleges that Tiller failed to get a second opinion from an independent physician for some procedures, as required by law. Tiller has denied wrongdoing, and the case is pending.
Rumors about an event for Tiller and his staff at Cedar Crest have circulated among abortion opponents for weeks. On Monday, commentator Robert Novak said in his column that Sebelius had invited Tiller and his staff to a party at the residence, labeling her "the national pro-choice poster girl."
The Greater Kansas City Women's Political Caucus advocates electing women who support abortion rights to public office, and it holds an annual dinner to raise money each fall. Corcoran said Tiller purchased the Cedar Crest reception at one of the dinners, although she didn't when or how much he paid.
Julie Burkhart, chief executive officer for ProKanDo, an abortion-rights group Tiller helped form in 2002, wasn't available for comment, but said she was preparing a response to Operation Rescue's statements.
Besides obtaining photos from the event, Newman said Operation Rescue filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act for a list of events at Cedar Crest in March and April 2007 in which meals were served. He said only four events were listed, and Tiller wasn't specifically mentioned.
He said the group also is seeking copies of any correspondence, including e-mails, involving events at Cedar Crest during the same period. He said the records have not been produced.
Earlier this month, The Associated Press requested copies of the governor's schedule and a schedule of events at Cedar Crest for the first half of 2007. The AP also is seeking copies, if any exist, of e-mails between Sebelius and several staff members and Tiller or Burkhart.
"Now we have the photographic evidence that there is an extremely close relationship between the governor and the abortion industry in Kansas," Newman said.