Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Taps Attorney Nicole Shanahan As Running Mate

Nicole Shanahan waves after accepting Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s selection of her as his vice-presidential running mate. She financed a pro-Kennedy super PAC's Super Bowl ad.
Nicole Shanahan waves after accepting Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s selection of her as his vice-presidential running mate. She financed a pro-Kennedy super PAC's Super Bowl ad. Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced Tuesday that he had selected wealthy Bay Area attorney and philanthropist Nicole Shanahan as his vice-presidential running mate.

Shanahan, the 38-year-old daughter of a Chinese immigrant mother and troubled white father in Oakland, California, and was previously married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, is a major Kennedy backer. She gave $4 million to a pro-Kennedy super PAC, American Values 2024, to air the retro-style Super Bowl ad that conjured the 1960 campaign of Kennedy’s uncle, former President John F. Kennedy.

“There is only one anti-war candidate today, and you won’t find him in the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. He is an independent, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.!” she declared at the close of two-and-a-half-hour campaign rally in Oakland announcing her selection.

“Yes, and it is his commitment to peace and to the welfare of hardworking people in America that draws me as a person of compassion to his candidacy.”

Shanahan’s newness to public life was evident in her bearing at the podium. She sometimes bracketed her sentences with nervous giggles.

But she offered a moving personal story that stood in marked contrast to Kennedy’s aristocratic origins. Shanahan’s father’s substance abuse and mental health issues created economic hardship for the family, forcing them to rely on government assistance, she said. That experience “has become part of my determination to do something for our country,” she said.

The birth of Shanahan’s daughter, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, is part of what has driven her closer to Kennedy, who believes that chemicals in vaccines and pollutants are fueling a chronic disease epidemic.

Shanahan laid out her belief that a combination of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, electromagnetic “pollution” from devices like cell phones and the over-prescription of medication and other treatments have fueled maladies ranging from infertility to higher rates of autism. As vice president, she said she would spearhead a massive effort to study the causes of chronic illnesses with help from cutting-edge artificial intelligence tools.

“We’ll find the answers to our most pressing health concerns within weeks, not decades,” she said, citing her confidence in the potential of unexplored government databases and corporate secrets. “We can end this chronic disease once and for all.”

Kennedy, an environmental attorney, anti-vaccine advocate and conspiracy theorist, considered a variety of unconventional candidates to serve as his running mate. Among the names in the mix: the rapper “Killer Mike” Render, NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers and TV host Mike Rowe, Kennedy told the San Francisco-based radio station KCBS on Monday morning.

Kennedy told “The State of California” host Doug Sovern that Shanahan stood out because of her youth, athleticism and commitment to “unraveling the war machine and the corporate capture” of the federal government.

Shanahan founded ClearAccessIP, a company that aims to help entrepreneurs develop and manage patents, and sold it for an undisclosed amount in 2020. 

In 2019, Shanahan launched the Bia-Echo Foundation to distribute $100 million that she is donating to programs that fight climate change, reform the criminal justice system and help women become pregnant later in life. 

Shanahan identifies with Kennedy’s focus on the links between environmental pollution and public health problems, she told The New York Times in a February interview following the Super Bowl ad.

“I do think we have an environmental health crisis in this country,” she said. “I do believe Americans deserve clean water. And we can’t achieve that in the current climate of politics.”

The attorney also shares some of Kennedy’s skepticism of vaccines.

“I do wonder about vaccine injuries,” she told the Times. “I think there needs to be a space to have these conversations.”

Through his nonprofit Children’s Health Defense, Kennedy has spread fears about vaccine side effects that a broad array of experts say are unfounded. Children’s Health Defense has fueled doubts about the health risks of vaccinations for childhood diseases like measles, though these shots have been safely used for decades.

Kennedy has specifically supported the debunked theory that vaccines are linked to autism. In a speech about that supposed link in 2015, he compared the United States’ vaccination regime to “a Holocaust,” though he later apologized.

Shanahan’s wealth is clearly part of her appeal for Kennedy. In 2022, when divorcing Brin, one of the world’s richest people, she sought more than $1 billion.

Kennedy will need millions of dollars to obtain ballot access in all 50 states over the two major parties’ objections. Shanahan vowed to help with that on Tuesday.

“Take a look at his vision for America ― it is a vision. Dare to, as I spend the next seven months of my life getting him on each and every ballot in this country,” she said.

Prior to this election cycle, Shanahan was a major donor to Democratic presidential candidates, including President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign.

She has also given to a number of Democratic congressional candidates, such as Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents key parts of Silicon Valley. Shanahan is still supporting Khanna, giving him the maximum allowable amount this cycle.

Shanahan described her shift away from the Democratic Party as a product of her conclusion that the party’s leaders had moved away from its core values of “compassion,” “diplomacy,” “civil liberties,” and “free speech.”

Even before Shanahan’s selection, national Democrats took Kennedy seriously as a threat to Biden’s re-election.

In a Tuesday afternoon conference call convened by the Democratic National Committee, Biden surrogates characterized Shanahan’s selection as a desperate attempt to finance his way onto the ballot.

“There is absolutely no path for Kennedy to become president and he knows that,” said Mallory McMorrow, majority whip in the Michigan state Senate. “That is why he picked a VP who can can buy his way onto the ballot in a number of states ― while that’s disgusting, and it is an abuse of our democracy.”

McMorrow and her colleagues on the call characterized Kennedy as a “spoiler” who would boost former President Donald Trump.

“His goal is to take votes away from President Biden and help elect Donald Trump,” said Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Austin Davis (D).

But Republicans are apparently also worried about Kennedy’s appeal among potential Trump voters.

The pro-Trump super PAC, Make America Great Again Inc., issued a press release blasting Kennedy and Shanahan on Tuesday.

“Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a far-left radical that supports reparations, backs the Green New Deal, and wants to ban fracking,” Alex Pfeiffer, a spokesman for Make America Great Again, Inc., said in a statement. “It’s no surprise he would pick a Biden donor leftist as his running mate.”

Igor Bobic contributed reporting.