TOPEKA A Kansas-based abortion rights group has disbanded its political action committee and faced criticism Wednesday from an anti-abortion leader that the PAC's real purpose was to help start the clinic now operating in the late Dr. George Tiller's medical building in Wichita.
Campaign finance records showed that the Trust Women PAC made only a handful of contributions to candidates after its founding in August 2009. It was fined twice by the Federal Election Commission in the past two years, paying a total of $4,262 in penalties for failing to meet reporting requirements.
Julie Burkhart, Trust Women's executive director, said the PAC wasn't shut down because of the issues with federal regulators or criticism from the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. Instead, she said Trust Women concluded it was "pulled in so many directions," so the PAC notified the FEC that it was ceasing operations in a May 15 filing.
"We are so incredibly focused on providing direct care services that we really don't have time to focus on the political piece," Burkhart said.
Trust Women opened the South Wind Women's Center last year in the building that had housed Tiller's clinic for decades. Tiller was among a few physicians in the U.S. known to perform abortions in the final weeks of pregnancy, and he was shot to death in May 2009 by an anti-abortion zealot. Burkhart was an associate of Tiller's, served as his clinic's spokeswoman and led ProKanDo, a PAC funded largely by Tiller's contributions.
Operation Rescue filed a complaint last year with the FEC demanding an audit of the Trust Women PAC's finances. Cheryl Sullenger, the anti-abortion group's senior policy adviser, said Wednesday that she believes it shut down to avoid further scrutiny.
The PAC reported to the FEC last year that it had received $8,410 in payments in August and September from the clinic, listing the same amount as a debt owed to the PAC for office furniture.
"We believe that they were improperly giving startup money to the abortion clinic," Sullenger said. "There are still a lot of questions we have."
Burkhart called the allegation "incredibly false."
The PAC's reports show about $358,000 in spending during its 5-year life but only $7,300 for contributions or independent expenditures to help a total of five candidates.
The PAC reported spending nearly $80,000 on fundraising services, including nearly $67,000 in 2009 and 2010 to a Lincoln, Nebraska, firm, the Hudson Bay Co. The PAC also paid a total of nearly $94,000 to more than two dozen individuals as staffers, interns and consultants, including more than $32,000 to Burkhart.
The FEC levied a $550 fine in September 2012 after the PAC failed to file a report for the second quarter of the year. The report was filed more than two months late.
The FEC levied another fine of $3,712 in June 2013 over the PAC's failure to file a report after the November 2012 general election. It was filed more than six months late in May 2013, according to FEC records. In a letter to the FEC, Burkhart said an office move in October 2012 had left the PAC's records "temporarily inaccessible."