Super Bowl commercials cost a fortune. So when a group supporting Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential candidacy aired a 30-second ad for him during Sunday night’s game, the political world took notice.
How did the super PAC of a long-shot independent candidate pay for such an expensive spot, and who came up with the idea of adapting a vintage John F. Kennedy ad for his nephew’s campaign?
It turns out that one of the main sources of funding – and creative advice – was Nicole Shanahan, a lawyer, entrepreneur and Democratic donor, formerly married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
In an interview Monday, Ms. Shanahan said she gave $4 million to the super PAC, American Values 2024, about a week before the game, for the express purpose of helping pay for a Super Bowl ad. . She also helped coordinate production of the commercial, she said, including addressing concerns from CBS Sports and Paramount, which aired the Super Bowl.
“This seems like a great opportunity to highlight that he’s running for president,” Ms. Shanahan said. She said part of her motivation had to do with her concern for the environment, vaccines and children’s health, as well as her belief that Mr. Kennedy was ready to challenge the scientific establishment.
“I wonder about the injuries caused by vaccines,” she said, while clarifying that she was “not anti-vaccination”, but that she wanted more control of the risks linked to vaccinations. “I think there needs to be a space to have these conversations.”
Mr. Kennedy, an environmental lawyer, has become widely known in recent years for his work in the so-called medical freedom movement, which has promoted discredited claims about the risks of some childhood vaccinations.
“I think we are facing an environmental health crisis in this country,” Ms. Shanahan said. “I believe Americans deserve clean water. And we can’t do that in today’s political climate.”
Tony Lyons, co-chairman of American Values 2024, confirmed Ms. Shanahan’s role and the timeline she outlined for producing the ad. He said several other donors helped fund the ad, which cost $7 million. (Contributions, like Ms. Shanahan’s, will not appear in public filings until the super PAC files its next report, expected later this month.)
A representative for Paramount Global declined to comment.
The ad, which adapts images from a famous 1960 Kennedy campaign ad, drew criticism from some members of the Kennedy family, many of whom criticized it for spreading conspiracy theories about vaccines and promoting other incorrect information.
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As of Monday afternoon, the ad was still pinned to his profile, although it was later removed. Stefanie Spear, the Kennedy campaign press secretary, did not respond to a request for comment Monday. On Sunday, she said the campaign was “pleasantly surprised and grateful” for the publicity.
Ms. Shanahan, 38, is a Bay Area lawyer and technology entrepreneur who has invested in scientific research, particularly in health and the environment. She was married to Mr. Brin in 2018; their divorce was finalized last summer.
Ms. Shanahan, who has a history of giving to Democrats — including to President Biden’s 2020 campaign — and described herself on Monday as a “through and through progressive,” gave the maximum contribution of $6,600 to Mr. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in May, when he was still seeking the Democratic nomination, records show.
But when Mr. Kennedy announced in October that he would instead run as an independent — a move he said was necessary because Democrats were preventing him from challenging Mr. Biden — Ms. Shanahan said she was “incredibly disappointed » and decided not to support him. .
In recent weeks, she said, she reconsidered her decision because she met people who were “really excited” about Mr. Kennedy. “There are pockets of silent support everywhere,” she said.
On Feb. 2, she said, she first spoke with Mr. Lyons, who told her he wanted to run a Super Bowl commercial but didn’t have the money.
American Values said it raised more than $28 million last year, but that figure included $10 million in contributions from Gavin de Becker, a well-known security consultant, of which $9.7 million was reimbursed, records show.
The super PAC said the funds from Mr. de Becker, whose company provided security for Mr. Kennedy’s campaign, were “significant bridge financing donations” and that the money had been returned to him while ‘there was no need. “It continues to provide interim funding, for example, the $4 million it is doing in February,” Mr. Lyons said in a statement.
The super PAC also received $15 million last year from Timothy Mellon, a banking heir and businessman who also gave $10 million in 2023 to a super PAC supporting former President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Mellon’s role has raised eyebrows among some Democrats, with fears widespread within the party that Mr. Kennedy could siphon votes from Mr. Biden.
After the ad aired Sunday night, the Democratic National Committee accused Mr. Kennedy of serving as a “Trump hound” seeking to undermine Mr. Biden. In response, the super PAC said the DNC was “using every political trick it could think of” to keep Mr. Kennedy out of the election. (Mr. Biden’s allies have indeed tried to fend off potential third-party presidential candidates.)
American Values 2024 had $14.8 million on hand at the end of December, according to its year-end report filed Jan. 31. The super PAC said it plans to spend more than $15 million to support the Kennedy campaign’s efforts to get his name out there. on the ballot in 12 states — an effort contested by the DNC, which last week filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the groups of poor coordination.
Ms. Shanahan said that after her Feb. 2 phone call with Mr. Lyons, she sent $4 million to the super PAC to help pay for a Super Bowl ad.
But the next day, a Saturday, Mr. Lyons told him that the ad they were working on couldn’t run because of concerns about laws prohibiting super PACs from coordinating with candidates. The ad included clips of Mr. Kennedy speaking to the camera, she said.
“None of us were ready to give up on the idea of the Super Bowl commercial,” Mr. Lyons said. “He was censored in so many different ways, that many people in the United States didn’t know he was running, even though he was traveling the country and working around the clock to get his message out.”
That night, Ms. Shanahan called a friend who had family ties to an advertising agency and got a recommendation for a publisher in New York, who agreed Sunday morning to take on the project. Another friend of Ms. Shanahan suggested “something retro,” she said.
Working with a small team, she said: “We spent the next 10 hours looking at every retro advert we could find,” she said. “The Kennedy jingle got stuck in our heads.” She had never seen the original ad, she said.
Mr. Lyons said he was involved in the ad production process once a rough cut was made, he said, and he pitched it to Paramount. “She was the driving force behind the decision to do this commercial. When I heard about it, I loved the idea.
Mr. Lyons said the network responded with concerns about whether the super PAC could use the original advertising without legal concerns. The group spoke with an attorney, who said the 1960 ad was in the public domain.
Ms Shanahan said some were concerned the Kennedy family would not approve of the ad. “They might be upset, but some might be delighted,” she speculated. “What a beautiful tribute to this wonderful family. »
Jim Rutenberg reports contributed.
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