December 4th, 2008
12:15 PM ET
9 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. Alex

    "Thats a nice gesture but always the cynic…all that money could have been spent on something more longlasting than 1 day of luxury like food for a month…and you can still watch the inaguration on TV"

    Thats true but for some of these people, terminally ill, disadvantaged, or the people who were wounded fighting for our country. This may be the biggest chance they get, a brief moment to be cast out of the shadow that they've been put in for the last 8 years and given a chance to sit right up there and be seen. Thats what its all about. Its not just the CEO's and elites who deserve to sit up there. Every American deserves their chance, and for some of those people, this inauguration may mean everything. You never know.

    December 4, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  2. Patrick

    Mr. Earl Stafford You Rock

    December 4, 2008 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  3. sandee in Portland

    This is a wonderful gesture, but I would rather see Mr. Stafford take his million dollars and build several homeless shelters so they would have a roof over their head and food in their bellies for more than just one night.

    December 4, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    I think this is Wonderful!! Cynics may say that there is more that can be done with the money, but for the people given this wonderful opportunity, this day will be monumentous and one they will never forget. In addition to that, look at the hope its already bringing to people who are just reading the article

    December 4, 2008 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  5. Lander

    What a generous and admirable gesture by Stafford! Thank you for leading by example and exemplifing kindness and the American spirit.

    "Anonymous", I'm sorry to say but you just don't get it do you...completely missing the point.

    December 4, 2008 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  6. No Hillary = No Obama

    I wonder if all this hoopla would have happened if Hillary Clinton had won – a woman. Would everyone be gaga? Give me a break!

    December 4, 2008 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  7. Re: RealityKing

    "Unless the touching of his gown heals?" Seriously, GET OVER IT! He won. Whether you like it or not Barack Obama is the next President of the United States of America! Bitterness is such an ugly emotion. Get a life!!!!!!!

    December 4, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  8. Luke Brown, Charleston SC

    What a great gift for those folks ... and a good message for all Americans.

    December 4, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  9. Retired Army in San Antonio

    Judy Simmons` December 4th, 2008 11:00 am ET

    I just hope he does not take race into consideration when chosing who might be the lucky ones to attend.........


    Seriously........if he were spending $1 million to send poor people and military veterans to the inauguration, why would he bother to make race a consideration. spending $1 million OF HIS OWN MONEY to send poor people and military veterans to the inauguration, why shouldn't he be able to set any criteria he wants to set?!?!?!

    Good's not enough he does something positive, he still gets critisized because of what he may or may not 'consider' in doing the good deed.....


    December 4, 2008 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  10. arc, Lugano CH

    RealityKing December 4th, 2008 11:43 am ET
    I see a lot more need out here than seeing Obama. Unless of course…, the touching of his gown heals??

    I'd love to hear what the McCain/Palin bigot white trash lepers think of this article. Oh, and here is the first customer of the day.

    December 4, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  11. paul (staunch Moderate)

    Ken in Dallas December 4th, 2008 11:08 am ET

    I don't see a single post on this topic asking "where's the change?"

    This is the change. This is America beginning to live up to our heritage of humanity, generosity, opportunity, and hope. These are the seeds of the greatness that we can become again.

    Here is change we can believe in.

    Perfectly stated, Ken!

    I particularly like that he is focusing on veterans. I wish only that there were more of him.... As a Viet Nam era vet, it is heartening to see people again appreciate what those in the military do for our country. Just as it was for Viet Nam this may be an unwanted, needless, unpopular war but those who serve are to be commended. It is because they serve that we have the freedom to express our opinions as we do here.

    December 4, 2008 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  12. valerie

    That's wonderful..what an example of generosity and selflessness. Yes Anonymous, that money could have been spent on food, but the example to the rest of the nation would be lost. It's time we come together again and try to re-evaluate who we are as a country and who we WANT to be!

    December 4, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |

    See! Barack Obama has already improved the USA!

    December 4, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  14. David Goldman






    December 4, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  15. dora

    He could have bailed out some people loosing their homes to shows more practicality to his own spending.
    This is becoming the largest fiasco of the century. People in Poverty losing everything they worked for and some joker wants a hugelavish party!
    Talk about wasteful spending. I hope that is not the way this administration plans on spending it's dollars.

    December 4, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  16. California Girl

    I simply don't understand how anyone can be mean and cynical about this. There are too many people out there who are way too concerned about making sure no one is getting some goodie they themselves are not getting. I saw it here when the grocery workers were on strike – people saying "my benefits at work aren't that good, so why should these people have better benefits than I do?" It is sort of "My life sucks so yours should too." Here, this man is providing some people an incredi8ble experience. It makes me sad to think anyone could find something to be mean about.

    December 4, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  17. Tiffany

    It is truly sad to see someone putting so much time and effort and money into something this uneventful. There is a reason that you can watch this on television, need not being a spectator. If this gentleman truly wanted to make a difference he would have donated this money to a society that has a worthy cause rather than blowing it on a hotel stay and some fancy dresses. There is so much suffering and so much hurt in this nation that could be aided with this donation and would show benefit and make a difference. I applaud you for your generosity, but am saddened that it is not for something more worthwhile.

    December 4, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  18. Dan


    Sure MAKE all of the hotels and places to "sleep" free. Everything should be free huh? Why should businesses make money. Let us make sure that the people of the country do not have to do anything and have everything given to them. I wonder who you voted for?

    On a lighter is good to see so many Obama supporters evoke the name of God on this post. Usually they are saying that if you believe in God you are a small minded racist Republican Ironic huh?

    December 4, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  19. Frann A in Los Angeles

    Bless him. When the heart is open, miraculous things occurs. That is part of The Change...

    December 4, 2008 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  20. Wisconsin

    This is what America should be.

    Thank you.

    December 4, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  21. Melvin

    My the Lord continue to bless you and your family.

    December 4, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  22. jackie ohio

    How do I sign Up, I would live to attend this historical event. I am a custodian make very little money but love washington DC Love the whole political world. I am a white woman who is very proud to say I voted for OBAMA not because of his skin colar but because he is different. He thinks different then anyother President Hebrings all americans to gether to beleave once again that this is our country and we all are responsible to the future of it and we as americans need to take charge and build her back up.

    December 4, 2008 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  23. Christy

    To: wondering December 4th, 2008 11:51 am ET

    Wondering, your comments are transparent. In your own words " It's a bit unreal to see a white person struggling to survive, unable to qualify for government benefits..." while there are so many minorities left to be oppressed. I'm sure that does shock a white racist southerner. This is why the majority of America, including Mr. Stafford and other posters in this blog believed in President Obama's hope for change. Wtih time and old age, the world will be rid of small minds such as your own.

    December 4, 2008 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  24. Michael, Houston Texas

    You know, I agree with most on here, great gesture from someone who has it to give. The rest of you neo-morons who are finding fault in this should be ashamed of yourself. What in the heck is the matter with you idiots! The guy is giving something to those who otherwise couldn't do it for themselves. Who cares if the receiptants are black, white, etc, the moral of this wonderful gesture is there is nothing wrong with looking out for your fellow American. Some of you should just give up you citizenship and leave because you are the reason why this country moved being the great wonder of the world to the laughing stock of the world.

    December 4, 2008 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  25. Former Democrat

    To "sick and tired"

    Wealthy businessmen help people providing jobs, creating goods and services, paying taxes, giving to charity, funding foundations, and being politically involved, like Mr. Stafford, even though he doesn't agree with Barry's policies.

    December 4, 2008 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19