American Journalism Review described Ms. Fritz as one of the “unsung heroes” of political reporting — rarely a schmoozer or schmoozee, never landing on trendy lists of star journalists, and seldom on the receiving end of calculated leaks by powerful people.
But if she was largely unfeted by the Georgetown salon crowd and general public, Ms. Fritz earned a reputation for dogged investigative work that brought her some of the profession’s highest honors. The journalism review likened her to Lt. Columbo, the rumpled but wily homicide detective played on television by Peter Falk.
Her career began inauspiciously in 1966, as a $115-a week copy editor at the Pittsburgh Press. It was a newsroom larded with spittoons, and the few women on staff had to smoke in the bathroom.
Her career trajectory and smoking liberties improved after she moved to Washington in the early 1970s to cover the labor beat for the United Press International wire service. She later worked for U.S. News & World Report as White House correspondent during the early years of the first Reagan administration.
As a reporter for the Los Angeles Times for much of the 1980s and 1990s, she covered the Reagan-era arms-for-hostages scandal known as Iran-contra and the Whitewater real estate investigation involving Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Richard T. Cooper, a former Los Angeles Times deputy Washington bureau chief, said the Times was one of the first newspapers to invest in a substantial computer-assisted research operation. He called Ms. Fritz a “formidable” spearhead of that effort as it related to her speciality in House and Senate campaign finance.
Reporters could go to the Federal Elections Commission and plumb records about what the oil industry or trade unions, for example, spent on candidates. The Times database, overseen by editor Dwight Morris, was one of the first comprehensive attempts to explore how candidates spent the money they received from political action committees and special-interest groups.
The Fritz-Morris reporting — published in book form as the “Handbook of Campaign Spending” and “Gold-Plated Politics”— looked at hundreds of thousands of separate expenditures for nearly 1,000 House and Senate candidates. They concluded that more than half of the $446 million that candidates spent in the 1990 election cycle was “virtually unrelated to contacting voters,” pointing to elaborate expenses on meals, resort stays, art purchases, unorthodox real estate deals and jobs involving nepotism.
They concluded that the costs of campaigning were far less to blame for systematic abuses that the rivers of easy money that candidates wade in. Their stories raised questions about the value of public financing of congressional races.