Skip to main content
Politics & Policy

Wealthy attorney, ex-wife of Google founder picked as VP for RFK Jr. Who is she?

A man and woman wave to a crowd, standing before a banner with patriotic decor and a slogan about the future.
Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. chose Nicole Shanahan, a wealthy attorney with deep ties in Silicon Valley, as his running mate. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

In front of a cheering crowd in Oakland, independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced Tuesday that he had chosen attorney Nicole Shanahan as his vice presidential running mate.

Shanahan, 38, donated $4 million for a Super Bowl TV ad this February in support of Kennedy’s candidacy and has long been rumored to be on the shortlist for his VP pick.

Roughly 500 supporters of Kennedy and Shanahan packed the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center close to Lake Merritt, many of them waving American flags and wearing “Kennedy24” hats. After the announcement, campaign staffers handed out “Kennedy Shanahan” signs.

An Oakland native, Shanahan has deep ties in Silicon Valley. After becoming an attorney, she founded a legal technology firm and is president of The Bia-Echo Foundation, which focuses on reproductive longevity and equality, criminal justice and the environment. She was formerly married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

In introducing Shanahan, Kennedy pledged to fight corporations, combat censorship and clean up toxic pollutants, saying he was “confident there is no other American more qualified than Nicole Shanahan to play this role.” 

Who is Nicole Shanahan?

Shanahan was born in the Sacramento area and grew up in Oakland. Her mom is an immigrant from Guangzhou, China, and her late father, a German and Irish American, struggled with substance abuse. 

She said she had a challenging childhood as she grew up in poverty, relying heavily on food stamps. Later, she attended the University of Puget Sound and Santa Clara University for law school.

A smiling person in a purple suit behind a podium with "KENNEDY 2024," raises a peace sign, with a "FUTURE" backdrop.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. praised Nicole Shanahan as an example of the American dream, saying she "overcame every daunting obstacle.” | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

She said that she became political during high school as an anti-war activist. She has donated to the Democratic Party, but joined Kennedy and switched to being an independent as she grew frustrated with the two-party system.

Kennedy, 70, is the nephew of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963, and the son of Robert F. Kennedy, who served as U.S. attorney general and a senator before his 1968 assassination during his own run for president.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. initially ran as a Democrat, later switching to independent as the party establishment rallied behind incumbent President Joe Biden.

Some of Silicon Valley's most outspoken tech moguls have thrown their support behind Kennedy. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey endorsed Kennedy last year. Venture capitalists David Sacks and Chamath Palihapitiya co-hosted a fundraiser for Kennedy that reportedly raised $1 million.

Apart from bankrolling Kennedy’s Super Bowl ad, Shanahan contributed $6,600 to Kennedy when he was running for the Democratic nomination last year, along with $500,000 to Common Sense, a super PAC backing Kennedy, according to the New York Times. In 2020, she donated $25,000 to Biden’s campaign fund and also gave $2,800 to Marianne Williamson during the Democratic primaries.

A crowd with "KENNEDY SHANAHAN" political signs, American flags, and a gymnasium backdrop.
A crowd of roughly 500 supporters in Oakland waved Kennedy-Shanahan signs during the campaign event at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

Kennedy praised Shanahan as an example of the American dream.

“A daughter of an immigrant, [Shanahan] overcame every daunting obstacle,” Kennedy said, “and went on to achieve the highest of the American dream.”

A controversial pick

Shanahan drew major media attention in recent years for her marriage to Google co-founder Sergey Brin. 

The two were married between 2018 and 2023 and have a daughter. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Shanahan had a brief affair with Elon Musk that led to her divorce from Brin. Shanahan and Musk both called the report false. 

Shanahan reportedly sought $1 billion in her divorce from Brin and the matter was settled confidentially last year.

Shanahan also revealed that her child has autism. In her speech Tuesday, she attributed autism diagnoses to toxic substances in the environment, such as pesticide residue, along with “electromagnetic pollution” and medications. 

She also criticized medication and vaccine practices for children.

“No single safety study can assess the accumulative impact of one prescription on top of another prescription,” she said. “And one shot on top of another shot on top of another shot throughout the course of childhood.”

The news that Kennedy had selected Shanahan as his running mate triggered a wave of media coverage in the Chinese-speaking world because of Shanahan's Chinese heritage.

A man and woman stand together against a backdrop with "Breakthrough Prize" written, both dressed for a formal event.
Nicole Shanahan was married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin from 2018 to 2023. | Source: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Kennedy's stances on vaccines and other issues have been controversial. His views have been disavowed by members of his own prominent Democratic family. His campaign’s Super Bowl spot, which adapted footage from a 1960 John F. Kennedy campaign ad, drew condemnation from family members. Kennedy later apologized, saying, “Sorry if the Super Bowl advertisement caused anyone in my family pain.”

Kennedy’s polling numbers are way behind those of Biden and former President Donald Trump. However, Democrats are concerned that Kennedy's run could erode support for Biden. 

“Robert Kennedy Jr. will not be president. He has no path to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win. And adding Nicole Shanahan to the ticket doesn’t change that equation,” said Rahna Epting, executive director at the influential democratic group MoveOn. “Choices in politics are good. Spoilers who throw the election to people who want to turn back the clock on generations of progress in this nation are not.”

Nasrin Branz, a Marin County resident who came to Oakland for the rally, said she has long been a loyal supporter of the Kennedy family, and their positions against the big pharmaceutical firms win her support.

“I love them,” Branz said. “They are going to do a great job for our side, the people’s side.”

Han Li can be reached at