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Meet Marty: Halo composer backed by Lombardo would be among wealthiest House members

O’Donnell, running in Nevada’s swingiest district, is one of several Republicans pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into his political campaign this cycle
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
Election 2024Elections

In early 1964, the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. That fall, California Gov. Ronald Reagan gave his famous “A Time for Choosing” speech in support of Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) as the GOP’s presidential nominee.

Nine-year-old Marty O’Donnell learned two things that year — he wanted to be a rock star, à la Paul McCartney, and he was a conservative Republican.

He achieved the first dream — after an early career writing television and radio jingles, O’Donnell became famous in the video game world for composing the iconic music and sound design for the popular Halo series. 

His compositions — including a collaboration with McCartney — have been streamed tens of millions of times and the Halo score he created is instantly recognizable to legions of gamers.

Now retired, living in Southern Nevada since 2021, and worth as much as $74 million, O’Donnell is attempting to use the wealth he acquired from his musical ambitions to make his political ones possible. He’s running in the crowded GOP primary for the state’s most competitive House district: Congressional District 3.

The district, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by just 1 percentage point, includes western Las Vegas, Enterprise, Spring Valley, Summerlin and the southernmost parts of Clark County.

O’Donnell is an unconventional candidate. 

Though he’s not the first independently wealthy person to self-fund a run for office, he was recruited to run for the seat by the political team that supported Gov. Joe Lombardo in 2022 and received the governor’s endorsement. He announced his candidacy on Discord, an instant messaging and voice call platform favored more by gamers than political hopefuls, where he regularly drops Lord of the Rings and Halo references while interacting with fans (and even referred to running for Congress a “side quest”). 

His personal fortune and self-funding of his campaign enables him to forgo taking any corporate PAC money — a point of emphasis he’s made in his campaign messaging. If elected, he would be one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

But O’Donnell believes his lack of a background in politics makes him a more attractive candidate. His slogan — “Less lawyers, more composers” — reflects that attitude.

“People seem to want to go to Washington because they want a career,” he said in an interview. “They want political power. They're looking for influence or money. None of those things are interesting to me.”

Who is O’Donnell?

If he were elected, O’Donnell would be one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

His personal financial disclosure — a document all congressional candidates have to file detailing their holdings — places the value of his assets and unearned income between $21 million and $74 million. The wide range is related to how the personal financial disclosure system works: candidates report the value of their assets in broad categories, such as $5 million to $25 million.

Much of O’Donnell’s wealth is held in stock holdings through individual retirement accounts and an investment portfolio he holds as a limited partner. He also has millions through mutual funds and exchange traded funds. His most valuable stocks include millions invested in technology companies: Apple, Adobe, Amazon, Microsoft and Nvidia among them.

His biggest asset is the equity he holds in Bungie, the video game company and developer of Halo where he worked as audio director for over a decade, both while it was a subsidiary of Microsoft and when it split back off as an independent venture. Worth between $5 million and $25 million, O’Donnell’s equity will begin being paid out in July. 

That level of wealth would make him one of the 25 richest people in Congress based on 2021 data, and in the top 10 when going by the higher estimate. He would be the richest member of the Nevada delegation as well, though Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV), also wealthy, has assets worth up to $24 million.

A native of the Chicago area, O’Donnell moved to Seattle in 2000 after the video game studio he worked at was acquired by Microsoft. He said he visited Las Vegas frequently over the past 15 years because his daughter moved there.

In 2021, he moved to Southern Nevada and made it his primary residence, buying a home in Lone Mountain and incorporating his company there in 2022. 

According to Clark County property records and his financial disclosure, he owns two rental properties in Las Vegas. In total, he expects to earn between $55,000 and $115,000 in rent this year.

He also earns some income from music royalties, autograph signings and a Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) pension — making him a conservative union member like Reagan, a former SAG president who as president went on to fire striking government workers.

O’Donnell has served for years in various positions at the nonprofit Center for Faith and Culture, a Washington State-based organization working to “rekindle the spiritual, intellectual and creative vitality of Christians,” but did not take a salary for this position.

Race Dynamics

In the primary, O’Donnell is facing former state treasurer Dan Schwartz, who has run in the district before and is also independently wealthy from his time as a banker and entrepreneur in Hong Kong. Other candidates include tax analyst Drew Johnson and former state Sen. Elizabeth Helgelien. 

The primary is awash in cash — Schwartz plunged $800,000 into his campaign in the first quarter of 2024, with O’Donnell loaning his campaign $500,000 and Johnson pitching in an additional $200,000. 

With the national Republican apparatus staying out of the race — in prior cycles, then-Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had put his thumb on the scale — O’Donnell is banking on his Lombardo endorsement and putting a primary-leading $330,000 into broadcast and cable advertising, according to ad-tracking firm AdImpact.

O’Donnell’s five spots on the air include pledging not to take corporate PAC money and promising to “stand with President Trump to end the invasion at our southern border.” In responding to a May 20 question on his Discord about his “vanilla ads,” O’Donnell replied, “Gotta get through the primary. Not that many folks in the district have played Halo.”

The only other Republican in the primary on the air is Schwartz, who has one 30-second ad touting his experience in the Army and state government and similarly tying himself to Trump on the border and on taxes. Schwartz has committed $236,000 to getting up on television. 

Lee , who has won three straight elections and beat her 2022 opponent by 4 points, is waiting on the other side, with a war chest of over $2 million and planned fall spending from a Democratic leadership-aligned super PAC. The equivalent Republican group did not include Las Vegas in its initial ad reservations list, suggesting that the cavalry may not be coming to oust Lee with the same might that it tried to last cycle.

A swing district that has not gone Republican since the 2014 red wave and had its Democratic registration advantage boosted after 2021 redistricting, CD3 under its current lines voted for President Joe Biden by a nearly 7-point margin.

Political values

O’Donnell identifies himself as a political conservative, more comfortable referencing classical themes in political philosopher Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and the J.R.R. Tolkien-verse than the crude heuristics of the Trump-era Republican Party.

His politics are rooted in a belief in a small federal government with low taxes and limited regulation that does not impede or penalize “family values” like having and raising children — the Reagan-era platform.

“The government is a necessary evil,” O’Donnell said. “And basically it's there to protect people to be free to have their choices and their values.”

He said he’s more interested in free market approaches than government interventions to support families, though he said he would be open to potentially increasing the child tax credit. And while his campaign said he opposes abortion, he believes the issue should be left to the states and would vote against a national abortion ban.

He has voted for Republicans in every election, including Trump twice. But dating back to his youth, he said not every Republican fully embodies his values.

“Sometimes I have to hold my nose a little bit,” he said.

While O’Donnell plans to vote for Trump a third time this fall and calls himself a “supporter” today, he wasn’t always on board. He called Trump an “idiot” on Twitter in early 2016 during the Republican primary, and said that he “loath[ed] Trump” in late 2017, preferring conservative intellectuals of prior eras such as William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman.

That’s not uncommon, including among his opponents. Schwartz said he was “a little uncertain” about Trump in a 2017 interview.

But in a primary electorate where the first principle is often loyalty to Trump and his agenda, he’s drawn ire from right-wing activists such as former state attorney general candidate Sigal Chattah, who has attacked him multiple times, including posting a screenshot of O’Donnell’s 2016 tweet and said “anyone but [O’Donnell] will suffice” for the primary.

And if O’Donnell does make it through the primary, Lee and Democrats will surely take the opposite tack, portraying him or any potential opponent as a MAGA extremist in line with Trump.

But he believes his advantage, in either race, is being an outsider.

“They're tired of the same old political hacks going to Washington,” he said.

Sunlight Search, a nonpartisan research organization focused on helping journalists conduct accountability research on political candidates, contributed to this report.


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