Ann McBride, former Common Cause President, Passes Away at 75

Statement of Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause 

I am very sorry to announce that Ann McBride, who served in many capacities at Common Cause, including President, passed away on May 5.

She was 75 and had been in declining health.

Ann is an important part of Common Cause’s history and was a cherished mentor and role-model to me.

Ann’s message was clear. Our victories were, she would often say, a message of hope for citizens – a reminder that working together, we all could make a difference in our government and our world.

She joined Common Cause in the early 1970s, first as a volunteer working to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and then as a member of the staff working on a range of our issues, including ethics and campaign finance reform. She was one of Common Cause’s most tireless lobbyists and became Senior Vice President in 1984. She served as President from 1995 to 1999.

“People laugh,” Ann once said, “when I say I’m with Common Cause and I’m from Louisiana,” which is known as much for its political corruption as for its gumbo.

But, she was a perfect fit, embodying so well our highest ideals of what a government should be and who it should serve. She loved traveling around the country to meet with Common Cause members and others. She connected so easily to people who were frustrated with their elected leaders and felt they had no voice. She showed them how, working together, we could be a united voice – a voice that could topple injustice and win historic reform victories at all levels.

When Members of Congress or reporters would chide Ann for being a Pollyanna, when victories seemed to be so far out of reach, she would take those “insults” as compliments. There was no shame, she taught us, in being an eternal optimist.

Like Ann, my first job at Common Cause was an entry-level one: I was hired as her administrative assistant in 1985. I learned about Common Cause, its values, its strengths, and its work through Ann.  Her warmth, her brilliance, and her joy inspired me.  Her instincts and political skills were sharp, and her command of our issues was impressive.  For my first four years at Common Cause, I had the opportunity to work with Ann on a daily basis.  I learned from the best.  And, it continues to inspire my work every single day.

Democracy 21 President and former Common Cause President Fred Wertheimer said: “Ann and I worked together at Common Cause for more than two decades. We were both colleagues and close friends. Ann was an inspirational leader for Common Cause and the wider public interest community. Her unwavering commitment to public service made her a role model to innumerable Common Cause staff and volunteers.”

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) had plenty of run-ins with Ann and Common Cause over the years, before joining in partnership with us and Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) in the work for historic campaign finance reform in the 1990s. Senator McCain described Ann like this:

“I’d also like to thank Ann McBride, our general and our strategist – a formidable foe, I might add, but also who has done enormous work and great effort on behalf of all Americans as the leader of Common Cause.”

That was exactly who Ann was to all who cared about a fair, honest, and thriving democracy. She was our general and our strategist. She gave all of us a voice.

In later years, Ann and her husband Ed Norton, worked in China as part of a Nature Conservancy project. While there, Ann founded Photovoices International that provided people with cameras, photography training,and a process for telling stories about their pictures as a way to bring their voices into decisions that affect their lives.

A graduate of American University, Ann served as a Fellow at the Institute of Politics at The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and, in 2005, she was selected as a Fulbright Senior Scholar to teach at Charles University in Prague. She also shared her travels and insights as a commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered.

Ann will be missed. But, her optimism and ability to be a voice for citizens will continue to be a guiding light for our work.