December 4th, 2008
12:15 PM ET
6 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. KeKe

    What a show of generosity and consideration for the less fortunate. I read someone else's comment about what else he could have done financially for them. I don't think that there is anything better than the memories of this historic event that Mr. Stafford could have given to the least fortunate of us. It really is remarkable the generosity of us as Americans. Best of luck to you in all that you do Mr. Stafford. KeKe

    December 4, 2008 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  2. LaJuan

    This is a great gesture, to bad his million can't buy warmer hearts for these cold-hearted Americans, who would much rather make nasty comments than to appreciate that change can come.

    December 4, 2008 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  3. Emit R Detsaw

    And the greatest part of the story, not in the article in the CNN ticker, is that Mr Stanfford didn't release that he was the one doing this. It was the Hotel. No self adulation, just trying to do something for those less fortunate.

    Inspiring!!!

    December 4, 2008 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  4. frank gashumba

    their few americans like him

    December 4, 2008 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  5. Marek

    Karmen, we all should be working to make a change in the county. Also, if I may ask how do you know President-Elect Obama is not working to make change. He hasn't even got into office yet and folk like yourself just refuse to give him time to hopefully make a difference and help facilitate some change be it biig or small in America. You acknowledge the historical importance of this moment in history, but yet in the same breath you try to minimize or tarnish th hopes of many. He alone may not have created change in this great country of ours, but certainly had a hand in it and is a result of it. Just remember during these trying times that we are experiencing, we need to come together as one nation and leave all the divisiveness behind us!

    December 4, 2008 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  6. kim, ca

    oh my gosh. this story sent chills up and down! i am so excited for the new year, it will be like coming out of a cave after 8 long years.

    December 4, 2008 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  7. republican gone democrat

    This democrat is definitely not afraid of spreading his wealth......

    'Anonymous" I disagree with your comment. No matter what people like Mr. Stafford does, people like you will say there is something better he can do with his money. It's the thought that counts.

    For those who think that this is "another follower of the messiah Obama" you need to start blaming the ancestors who mistreated black people so much that when a black person becomes president it feels like the greatest thing in the world.

    December 4, 2008 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  8. Helen

    What a wonderful gesture. In this current environment where we see how many people are ripping off other people and keeping millions for themselves, it is so nice to know there are still good people in this world.

    May God bless you for being so kind to people who need some kindness in this world. What goes around comes around and you will certainly have a place in heaven.

    December 4, 2008 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  9. Chris

    Awesome! What a wonderful man to give the opportunity of a lifetime to those who would not get a chance (like most of us) to be a part of this wonderful day, up close and personal.
    Now, let's see if Oprah can do the same thing by making sure that the limited seating for her shows in Washington during the week of the inauguration goes to individuals like this man is helping. Are you listening, Oprah?.

    December 4, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  10. Angela

    Incredible and obviously heartfelt gesture that will not go unrewarded as your guests will surely shower you with thanks, praise and many blessings. So do the rest of us. It puts a spirit of happiness and hope into all of our hearts.

    December 4, 2008 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  11. Truthiswhatweneed

    "For the first time in my adult life, I can truly say that I am proud to be an American".

    December 4, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  12. Kona

    That's very nice. Good man, although judging by the blog it's clear some people probably think he's somehow not a patriot.

    December 4, 2008 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  13. Milhouse van Houten

    "Come on people now,smile on your brother,everybody get together
    try to love one another right now".......The Youngbloods

    December 4, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  14. Christian

    I echoe almost every post on here. This is truely an awesome gesture. As several have said already, this is the change we can believe in. This is awesome.

    December 4, 2008 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  15. Dr.Mimi De La Cruz

    MR.STAFFORD, I THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY

    HEART & SOUL. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT EVENT IN

    THE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE, NOT BECAUSE IT STATES

    ABSOLUTE GREATNESS ABOUT PRESIDENT OBAMA, WHICH IT

    MOST DEFINITELY DOES, NOT BECAUSE IT STATES GREATNESS

    ABOUT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WHO HAD THE HEART & MIND

    TO ELECT HIM, WHICH IT FOREVER WILL, BUT IT STATES

    UNDENIABLE GREATNESS ABOUT THE HUMAN HEART & MIND.

    MR. STAFFORD & I ARE ABOUT THE SAME AGE AS I, & I NEVER

    THOUGHT I WOULD LIVE TO SEE THE DAY.

    CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR NEW PRESIDENT & TO ALL OF US.

    December 4, 2008 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  16. Brian G, Sugar Land, TX

    Mr. Stafford puts his money where his pride is. A fine investment from a fine example of the success that can be obtained in America.

    December 4, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  17. Kudos and Salutations

    What a gesture – Kudos and congratulations to Mr Stafford – He gets my vote as Man of the Week

    December 4, 2008 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  18. Chelle

    He may have already given ,money to food banks and shelters but of course that would never make the news! Who knows he may have something "extra" for the guest,give the man credit.

    December 4, 2008 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  19. Ms. Bev

    Mr. Stafford and his family are examples of upstanding Americans who obviously live according to the word of God......"I have blessed you to be a blessing..." May God continue to bless you and the Stafford Family for works well done!!

    December 4, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  20. sick n tired

    Wow A weathy businessman doing something good for someone else other than himself! Imagine that!

    December 4, 2008 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  21. ephraim

    finally, we have our country back! the difference between the last two republican inaugurations and this one could not make a clearer distinction. some cynics already blast mr. stafford for not doing
    more, or for not making it about feeding the homeless, etc. this is
    ridiculous. this about inspiring people, and witnessing a triumph
    of our ideals and will as a nation. this is not simply an african american becoming president, but someone from a very difficult and under privileged past like those he has invited to participate and feel
    included. obama hasn't made it about gowns and fancy parties,
    he is weaning the country of that junk... but there is authentic celebration
    to be shared and i am thrilled to see mr. stafford live his own dream.

    December 4, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  22. Rita Bracken

    How can I sign up??

    December 4, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  23. Partying

    Is it all partying, and spending money, for what, ego?? Only time can tell, if he does any good, or another Jimmy Carter all over again, as human nature is imperfect and sinfull, given all who work for him, with ambition of their own. They are only taking advantage of him, for their own power-craving in the future. Sooner or later, human beings will make mistake, as power corrupts, and we have seen that in Democrats before. History is our witness. Obama is simply too young and immature. His wife would have made a better president, following the foofsteps of Hillary Clinton.

    December 4, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  24. Kona

    Furthermore, it's interesting to read some of these people calling Oprah names (fat, racist, etc.) I think even if Oprah found all the people that don't like her, and gave them everything she had they would still hate her. That's how you know people are consumed with themselves and not interested in the greater good.

    My response: keep it movin'

    December 4, 2008 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  25. M. Brown

    My first question is "are all of the people he is sending for free black?", if the answer is yes.......then where is this so-called CHANGE?.....and if true sounds like a hippocrite to me.......blacks have them too........not just the White Republicans......

    December 4, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
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