December 4th, 2008
12:15 PM ET
5 years ago

Businessman offers splashy inauguration package - for free

Several hundred Americans will get a birds-eye view of the inauguration, for free.
Several hundred Americans will get a birds-eye view of the inauguration, for free.

(CNN) - As Washington gears up for January's presidential inauguration, tickets to the evening's festivities are going for hundreds of dollars, and the city's remaining hotel rooms are edging into four-figure territory. Even basements and couches miles from the National Mall are going for a premium on Craigslist.

But one of the splashiest inauguration packages out there – including high-end hotel rooms and luxury suites, food and drink, a (heated) viewing spot right above the parade route, even gowns and tuxedos to wear to celebratory balls, and a beautician to help you get ready for it – is going for the most eye-popping price of all: absolutely nothing.

Virginia businessman Earl Stafford has spent $1 million to give hundreds of poverty-stricken and terminally ill Americans, along with wounded men and women in uniform, an inauguration experience that would ordinarily run each of them thousands of dollars or more.

The 60-year-old black businessman and son of a Baptist minister – who said his effort was rooted in his faith and good fortune - told the Washington Post he is ready to spend another $600,000 on meals and private balls in the Marriott hotel two blocks from the White House where he rented a bloc of inauguration week rooms just hours after the election.

He also said he's hoping to raise roughly the same amount from sponsors. For now, the money is coming from his family's non-profit foundation, the Stafford Foundation.

"We wanted to… bless those who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to be a part of the great celebration, the inauguration and the festivities," he told the paper. "Our objective is to bring in a cross-section of society - those who are distressed, those who are terminally ill, those who are socially and economically disadvantaged, those veterans who are wounded and served our country.

"…We've gotten away from those core values that made America great," he said. "We just need to get back to caring about one another."

Stafford, who contributed to and voted for Barack Obama but said he does not agree with all of the president-elect's positions – has been planning the effort since the primary season.

But he said he decided the inauguration would be "a transition in history, if you will… and everyone should be included."


Filed under: Inauguration
soundoff (458 Responses)
  1. Kel in Auburn, AL

    Good deal. We need more wealthy individuals giving back to ordinary folks like this!

    December 4, 2008 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  2. Perezl

    WOW!! It's great to read this story! God bless this men and his family!!

    December 4, 2008 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  3. TJ Johnson

    Please! Couldn't that money be more wisely used if it was contributed directly to the people the donor is wanting to help? After all, the inauguration probably will be televised...

    December 4, 2008 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  4. wanda a.

    MR. EARL STAFFORD GOD WILL BLESS YOU FOREVER, KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    AND FOR THOES THAT ARE SELLING TICKETS GET READY TO GO TO JAIL............................................

    December 4, 2008 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  5. Dorothy in NC

    What a beautiful thing to do. It sounds like this businessman knows what is important and I am sure there will be alot of appreciative people because of you.

    December 4, 2008 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  6. Sensible Cape Coral FL

    Thank God there are still people like him around.

    December 4, 2008 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  7. Jill American

    Someone give this guy a medal!!

    December 4, 2008 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  8. Jennifer West

    Absolutely awesome! Truly what America is all about.

    December 4, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  9. Brina

    That is so wonderful......:)

    December 4, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  10. Wow

    That is extremely commendable!! I wish more people would have that sense of giving and looking out for those who are less fortunate. I hope he continues to be blessed so that he can help others.

    December 4, 2008 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  11. strong

    That is very generous of this man to do this. But .... really that money could be better spent on other things, you know, like food, shelter, clothes... But it ain't my money, so let him do what he wants. More money than br .....

    Inaugurations are nothing more than splashy parties for the Prez and all his little friends.

    December 4, 2008 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  12. Tolu

    Way to pay it forward. God bless him!

    December 4, 2008 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  13. Dan, FL

    I am not interested in this package even for free. I want to see what barack can deliver to American people. Just talk.. just speeches...ot there is some real action.

    December 4, 2008 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  14. Roosevelt Fuller

    How do I contact Earl Stafford for 2 tickets to the inauguration?

    December 4, 2008 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  15. Kaleena in GA

    This is making me tear up. It's wonderful to see people who are well off helping those who are not, in such an awesome way.

    It's also WONDERFUL to see a conservative, religious person who isn't a hypocritical jerk, and who can clearly see what is best for this country. =)

    December 4, 2008 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  16. rob

    funny.

    December 4, 2008 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  17. Maggie Muggins

    Very refreshing to see someone giving instead of taking every once in a while.

    December 4, 2008 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  18. Lancesmom

    Oh my God, the election of Barack Obama is bringing out the best in people. What a great country we live in, what a great man for doing this kind deed.

    December 4, 2008 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  19. J-Unit

    This is so cute!

    December 4, 2008 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  20. Sue Frasier

    Well this is great but how does anybody go about connecting
    with this fabulous offer ?? The most important part of
    the article was completely left out.

    Sue in Albany

    December 4, 2008 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  21. Dennis Culver

    Right on...

    December 4, 2008 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  22. Joyce, from New Jersey

    Good for him and i am glad some of the less fortunate people will be able to attend and witness history in the making!

    December 4, 2008 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  23. karen-phoenix

    Obama's election is going to bring out the "good" angels in an awful lot of people!!! The night of Nov. 4th in Chicago with 250,000 there was not one incident of crime and weather was warm!!! God will again bless and help this country if we just bring out our "better" angels instead of greed and disgust and bigotry!!!

    December 4, 2008 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  24. Dave

    Well, at least someone can embrace this change for what it is. Regardless of your feelings for Obama, this should be a celebratory time in our history. This guy has got it right.

    December 4, 2008 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  25. Kevin, NC

    Umm can I get a ticket?

    December 4, 2008 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
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