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RFK Jr. names attorney Nicole Shanahan as his VP pick

The attorney and entrepreneur, like Kennedy himself, has never run for elected office.
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OAKLAND, Calif. — Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced Tuesday that Nicole Shanahan, a wealthy attorney and entrepreneur in the San Francisco Bay Area, will be joining his campaign as his vice presidential selection

Shanahan, who like Kennedy has never run for elected office, has contributed to his campaign and his super PAC.

Kennedy made the announcement at an event in Shanahan's hometown of Oakland.

In explaining his decision, Kennedy said he wanted to choose a young athlete from a diverse background as his running mate and touted Shanahan's experience in tech and advocacy.

“I am confident that there’s no American more qualified to play this role than Nicole Shanahan,” he said.

In her address, Shanahan railed against the Democratic Party, saying that it “has lost its way” and that she was formally leaving it behind.

She also focused on concerns over the U.S. food supply — a top concern of Kennedy’s — and expressed skepticism of medicine and vaccines — also a top Kennedy cause — claiming no safety study “can assess the cumulative impact of one prescription after another after another, one shot after another and another, throughout the course of childhood.” At one point, she raised concerns about “electromagnetic pollution,” elevating a conspiracy theory about the health effects of 5G and Wi-Fi signals.

"This independent movement comes at a time of extreme division in America that threatens to tear this country apart," Shanahan said. "It is time for a re-alignment. It is time, as Bobby Kennedy says, to focus on our unifying values rather than our divisions.

"Take a close look at his vision for America," she continued. "It is a vision that I share, too, as I back his campaign and focus the next seven months of my life getting him on each and every ballot in this country!"

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in New York City
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in New York City on July 25. Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images file

Kennedy's pick comes at a key inflection point for his campaign. Independent presidential candidates have to navigate different rules for getting on ballots state by state, mostly involving gathering thousands of petition signatures. But in more than half of states, independents are required to file their nominating papers with named running mates, and some of those deadlines are approaching quickly.

Even as it remains a question where exactly Kennedy will be able to get on the ballot, he is polling better than other third-party candidates. And while the results can vary depending on exactly how different surveys ask the question, those results suggest he could play a significant role in critical swing states if he's on the ballot this fall.

In Arizona, Bloomberg/Morning Consult and Fox News surveys from this month show him garnering double-digit support. In Michigan, a Quinnipiac University survey from earlier this month also shows him attracting double-digit support, while in Pennsylvania. And in North Carolina, a Marist College poll showed 11% of registered voters backing him.

"Our campaign is a spoiler. I agree with that," Kennedy said. "It’s a spoiler for President Biden and for President Trump. It’s a spoiler for the war machine. It’s a spoiler for Wall Street and Big Ag and Big Telecom and Big Pharma and corporate-owned media ..."

Both Trump and Biden supporters took aim at Kennedy after the announcement. Alex Pfeiffer, a spokesman for the pro-Trump super PAC MAGA Inc., railed against Kennedy as "a far-left radical" and said it was "no surprise he would pick a Biden donor leftist as his running mate."

On a Democratic National Committee media call, Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow said Kennedy picked Shanahan purely for her ability to help fund his effort.

"There is absolutely no path for Kennedy to become president, and he knows that," she said. "That is why he picked a VP who can fund — who can buy his way onto the ballot in the number of states.

"First of all, that’s disgusting, and it is an abuse of our democracy," she added. "Second, that means that him being in the race means that there is a greater likelihood that Donald Trump will become president again. Something that I saw throughout the pandemic here in Michigan was a willingness of people like Trump ... propping up some of the stories and rhetoric of RFK to sow distrust, particularly with women and moms."

Kennedy considered a number of potential running mates during his vice presidential search, including New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, former Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and TV host Mike Rowe. Rowe described his interview to NBC News, saying Kennedy ran through key policy positions and defended his anti-vaccine advocacy.

But ultimately, Kennedy homed in on Shanahan, who was involved in the production of an attention-grabbing Super Bowl ad supporting him in February.

Shanahan told The New York Times that she helped make the ad and gave $4 million to the super PAC American Values 2024 last month to air it. Federal campaign finance records show a $4 million contribution to the super PAC on Jan. 31 from Planeta Management LLC, which bears a similar name to her venture fund, Planeta Ventures.

Joining Kennedy's ticket appears to open a pathway for Shanahan to inject her own wealth directly into the campaign instead of into an outside group, which would allow Kennedy to use the money for key projects like gathering petition signatures for ballot access.

Federal Election Commission rules suggest that vice presidential hopefuls are free to contribute their own money to their campaigns with no limitations — just like presidential candidates — as long as their tickets are not seeking public funding.

Shanahan’s life in California has been intertwined with some of tech’s biggest players.

She founded ClearAccessIP, a company that, according to its website, uses artificial intelligence to help patent holders manage their intellectual property. The company was acquired by IPwe in 2020.

She married Google co-founder Sergey Brin in 2018 and divorced him in 2022. The Wall Street Journal reported that she had an affair with billionaire Elon Musk, but both Shanahan and Musk have denied the accusation. The Journal has stood by its reporting.

"The WSJ’s narrative that an affair with Elon Musk led to the end of my marriage was about as accurate as claiming that the body heat of polar bears is responsible for the melting of the Arctic ice caps," Shanahan wrote in a 2023 essay for People magazine. "It felt senseless and cruel."

Shanahan's foundation, the Bia-Echo Foundation, says its mission is to “create a multiplying effect” on issues Shanahan cares about, including “reproductive longevity & equality, criminal justice reform and a healthy & livable planet.”

Shanahan has an autistic daughter and has recently funded research into the disorder’s causes, and she told the Times in February that she had been motivated to support Kennedy in part because of concerns about children’s health and the environment, including vaccines.

The latter item has been one of Kennedy's professional causes as the head of the country’s best-funded anti-vaccine organization, Children’s Health Defense. He took a leave from the organization to run for president and has filled his campaign with anti-vaccine activists

At his event Tuesday, warmup speakers included Del Bigtree, Kennedy's communications director and a prominent anti-vaccine activist; Jay Bhattacharya, a Stanford professor and outspoken opponent of Covid mitigation measures; and Angela Stanton-King, a onetime GOP congressional candidate whom Trump pardoned in 2020 for her role in a stolen car ring. In her congressional run, Stanton-King compared gay and transgender people to pedophiles and said the Black Lives Matter movement was “a major cover up for PEDOPHILIA and HUMAN TRAFFICKING.”