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Who is Nicole Shanahan, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s new running mate?

Many Arizona voters dissatisfied with 2024 options
Many Arizona voters dissatisfied with 2024 presidential candidates 03:00

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has picked Nicole Shanahan, a California lawyer and philanthropist who's never held elected office, to be his running mate in his independent bid for president, he announced on Tuesday.

An unconventional choice, Shanahan, who is 38, brings youth and considerable wealth to Kennedy's long-shot campaign but is little known outside Silicon Valley.

Shanahan leads the Bia-Echo Foundation, an organization she founded to direct money toward issues including women's reproductive science, criminal justice reform and environmental causes. She also is a Stanford University fellow and was the founder and chief executive of ClearAccessIP, a patent management firm that was sold in 2020.

Shanahan was married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin from 2018 to 2023, and they have a young daughter. She was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Kennedy made his announcement.

On Tuesday, Shanahan talked about her hardscrabble upbringing in Oakland, the daughter of a mother who immigrated from China and an Irish and German-American father "plagued by substance abuse" who "struggled to keep a job." Touching on her family's reliance on government assistance, Shanahan said that, although she had become "very wealthy later on in life," she felt she could relate to Americans being "just one misfortune away from disaster."

"The purpose of wealth is to help those in need. That's what it's for," Shanahan said. "And I want to bring that back to politics, too. That is the purpose of privilege."

Nicole Shanahan waves from the podium during a campaign event for presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Oakland, California.
Nicole Shanahan waves from the podium during a campaign event for presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Oakland, California. Eric Risberg / AP

Before the announcement, Kennedy's campaign manager and daughter-in-law, Amaryllis Fox Kennedy, praised Shanahan's work on behalf of "honest governance, racial equity, regenerative agriculture and children's and maternal health." She said the work "reflects many of our country's most urgent needs."

Kennedy said in an interview Monday with "The State of California" on KCBS radio that his VP search placed a priority on "somebody who could represent young people." On Tuesday, he said that Shanahan — who he noted, like him, has "left the Democratic Party" — also shares his concerns about government overreach and his distrust in major political parties' abilities to make lasting change.

"She'll tell you that she now understands that the defense agencies work for the military industrial complex, that health agencies work for big pharma and the USDA works for big ag and the processed food cartels," Kennedy said at his Oakland rally. "The EPA is in cahoots with the polluters, that the scientists can be mercenaries, that government officials sometimes act as censors, and that the Fed works for Wall Street and allows millionaire bankers to prey upon on Main Street and the American worker."

Kennedy also said that, in part, Shanahan's heritage played at least some role in his selection of her.

"I wanted someone who would honor the traditions our nation, as a nation of immigrants, but who also understands that to be a nation, we need to secure borders," he said.

Kennedy had previously signaled interest in picking a celebrity or a household name such as NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, "Dirty Jobs" star Mike Rowe or former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who was a wrestler and actor.

According to campaign finance records, Shanahan has long donated to Democratic candidates. It was unclear if Shanahan would use her own money on the campaign, but she has already opened her wallet to back Kennedy, giving the maximum amount allowed to Kennedy when he was still pursuing that party's nomination before switching to an independent bid in October.

She was a driving force and the primary donor behind a Super Bowl ad produced by a pro-Kennedy super PAC, American Values 2024, for which she contributed $4 million. In response to criticism following the ad's release, the super PAC said its "idea, funding, and execution came primarily" from Shanahan.

The super PAC can accept unlimited funds but is legally barred from coordinating with Kennedy's team.

But as a candidate for vice president, Shanahan can give unlimited sums to the campaign directly. That's potentially a huge boost for Kennedy's expensive push to get on the ballot in all 50 states, an endeavor he has said will cost $15 million and require collecting more than 1 million signatures.

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