Frank Sorauf wrote the proverbial book on American political parties and was an early and noted scholar on campaign finance, too.
The retired University of Minnesota political science professor died peacefully in his apartment on Sept. 6 of advanced Alzheimer’s disease. He had spent almost his entire academic career at the University of Minnesota, and the school named him a Regents Professor in 1991, a high honor for scholarly achievements.
Sorauf was particularly known for his research on the political party system and the role of national courts, and he also wrote extensively on separation of church and state. His textbook, Political Parties in the American System, came out in 1968 and is still in print.
“It’s the standard work today after almost 50 years,” said Phil Shively, a professor in the U’s political science department and a longtime friend of Sorauf.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Sorauf worked extensively on campaign finance issues. He served as academic expert on a nonpartisan task force studying political action committees, which was headed by former U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie.
In 2002, the Federal Election Commission asked Sorauf to co-write an amicus brief supporting the McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act before the U.S. Supreme Court. The document was cited six times in the court’s majority opinion upholding the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold, a major campaign finance reform law.
Sorauf grew up in Milwaukee and received his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Wisconsin. He headed Minnesota’s political science department from 1966 to 1969, and served as dean of the university’s College of Liberal Arts from 1973 to 1978.
As head of CLA, “Frank ran a very tight ship,” said John Howe, a U history professor, longtime Sorauf friend and former associate CLA dean. He “knocked heads” with people at times,” but “was always ready to make the hard decisions,” Howe said.
Sorauf vigorously supported CLA’s language requirements and pushed for more personal graduation ceremonies. He was the first CLA dean to shake hands with every graduate of the school at commencement.
Friends describe Sorauf as a Renaissance man. An avid sports fan, he played tennis into his 80s. An ardent classical music buff, he served as president of the Minnesota Opera in the 1980s. A noted collector of southwestern Native American art, he had several items from his collection on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Weisman Art Museum.
Sorauf played piano and knew his way around kitchen, too. “He spent a year in Italy and came back an accomplished Italian cook, and prepared lovely meals for his friends,” Shively said.
“He was a man of really refined tastes and he thought over everything carefully.” For advice on everything from a new suit to a carwash, Shively said he often went to Sorauf. “I still take my car to a little carwash in Northeast that he recommended.”
Sorauf is survived by his brother James Sorauf of Durham, N.C. A memorial event will be held at 4 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Weisman Art Museum.
Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003