For Roth, a longtime political reporter, the investigation offered a “tutorial” on this year’s new, freer era of campaign finance. While he knew the Citizens United case had changed things, Roth says that “until looking into this and talking with a lawyer that specializes in election law, I assumed there were restrictions on what PACs could do.”

He continues, “To learn there are no restrictions except they cannot be connected to a campaign, that this PAC can set itself up and completely say ‘Vote for Romney, don’t vote for this person.’ It’s such a different world.” He expects his knowledge of the new national campaign finance landscape will come in handy this year.

“It’s going to be so interesting to watch see how this affects the whole process. When you think about this primary season and that there’s this $12.2 million war chest that is supposedly independent but that can swoop in at any critical moment and flood a market with advertising—it’s fascinating.”

Roth suspects deep knowledge about the new campaign finance environment is patchy among local reporters. Though he says KTSU, like local television stations “everywhere” lack the resources to do this sort of investigative reporting often, he credits his bosses for being supportive of such endeavors whenever they can.

“With the economic pressures these days, we have a small staff trying to put on several hours of news programming a day,” says Roth, who should be commended for his own commitment. “Investigative stories like this involve a whole lot of time at home. But I think that is the life of reporter anyway.”

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Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.