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. Jody Monroe

    We don't have to sit around and wait for the Mr. Staffords of the world to lead, we are each leaders and can make a huge difference in our own communities. Thank you for the example, Mr. Stafford, may God richly bless you and your family.

    December 4, 2008 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  2. a southern bell.





    December 4, 2008 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  3. fran rhea

    how does one sign up/or get selected for this marvelous offer to go to the obama inauguration??????

    December 4, 2008 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  4. Shannon

    Once again, another inspirational story from an inspiring time.

    To Wonder: Seriously?

    December 4, 2008 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  5. Delo

    I think that is very nice. I wonder if Obama thought of this for the little people who contributed. I mean, the little people like me, and others who contributed $25.00 and $50.00 and live paycheck to paycheck who really could not afford to contribute to his campaign but did. Did anyone ever consider opening up a stadium or some other venue where there are big screen TV for the poor folks? Obviously, if you don't have money, you can't be apart of the festivities.

    December 4, 2008 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  6. Rich Lipis

    My wife and I would love to be part of this history making celebration.
    Is there a selection process or how are the fortunate ones selected?
    Please put my name in the hat.

    I am a wounded Vietnam Veteran, w/purple heart.

    Thanks, Rich

    December 4, 2008 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  7. RJ, CA

    Pineapple December 4th, 2008 11:06 am ET
    Very nice, a positive example of "spreading the wealth", the GOP was against.
    You silly little Pineapple! Conservatives - and Americans of ALL political affiliations - have ALWAYS been generous in sharing their good fortune. The difference is that it should remain a PERSONAL choice, such as is the case here - NOT a mandate by the federal government.

    December 4, 2008 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  8. Christy

    And to those of you who are asking about "change" if Mr. Stafford chooses only to send black guests, I say, THATS A CHANGE I CAN BELIEVE IN. Its a change from seeing typical, old, white, racist, greedy, men in Washington DC to celebrate the presidential inaguration of another old, white, racist, greedy, man. Seeing a sea of proud black Americans on the DC Mall on January 20, 2009 will be the Change the world has been waiting for. Get over yourselves white people.

    December 4, 2008 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  9. chan

    Well done! Mr. Stafford and the Stafford foundation.

    Thanks for exemplifying the heart and character of Christ. Especially during this time of year, as we celebrate the season for love, joy, peace, giving, ...

    You are the epitome of what a servant and having a servant's heart is.

    December 4, 2008 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  10. DWilliams

    Wondering – Did I miss the part where he said his offer was extended to "minorites" only? What a generous offer tainted only by remarks like yours. Examine yourself!

    December 4, 2008 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  11. Dan

    The most important event in the human race? Wow. So I guess the birth of Jesus pales in comparison huh? Going to the moon, the invention of language...not even close? Wow! I cannot imagine how this compares to thousands of things in the history of the human race that are more important, but then again I did not drink the punch. By the way, using CAPS does not make us read your post "louder"...heehee.

    December 4, 2008 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  12. Cappachino

    Always the cynic about cynics. How about anonymous get off his duff, stop finding something to gripe about and lend out a helping hand to others in need. Instead of finding something always wrong or something to cross his arms or tap his foot about you may want to take that negative energy and put it to something good versus being a freakin' Scrooge! Mr. Stafford is one person who is fortunate enough to bring one day of happiness to others. What you gonna do?

    December 4, 2008 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |







    December 4, 2008 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  14. Ya_Ya


    December 4, 2008 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  15. Maria Harper Davis

    Mr. Stafford,
    God Bless You, God said it's better to give than receive and it seems you are truly a giver. It was a blessing to read about your generosity to help those less fortunate to attend the inauguration.

    I wish I was blessed with the resources you have to make a difference to help schools with the resources they need to teach our children who will be the future of this country one day.

    Keep up the great work!!!!!!!!
    From a California native and future President of The United States

    December 4, 2008 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  16. Vegas Barbie for Obama

    Thank you, Sir! May God bless Mr. Stafford, and all those he works to help, may God bless President-elect Obama and the USA!

    December 4, 2008 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  17. over-it

    Its his money and he can spend it as he pleases. Get a life!

    December 4, 2008 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  18. smokesignals

    That's what I'm talkin' about....!

    This kind of generosity is going to be the new America!

    December 4, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  19. ChicagoSuz

    That's what sharing the wealth is all about...

    December 4, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  20. MissyRiver

    Mr. Stratford – what a nice thing you are doing! How are you picking the people and where are they from?

    December 4, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  21. Chelsea

    Awww....I love these stories... they make me all teary-eyed :)... I love love love it! Wonderful...amazing... made my day just a little better knowing there are fantastic people out there like this man and his family..The country already feels's like a nice, new pair of really soft socks after being barefoot for 8 years. I feel all warm and cozy:).

    December 4, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  22. Hillary Clinton

    Can't wait until Obama is out of office. Can't happen soon enough. January 20, 2013, I hope.

    December 4, 2008 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  23. Sammy

    Pretty cool. It is however a little sad that some here still have to try and find a way to turn this into a negative somehow.

    December 4, 2008 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  24. Bic from CT

    I take my hat off to this wonderful person. Everyone else is riping everyone off. Why do people and businesses have to raise the price of everything everytime there is a big event. The rooms, food and everything else is not any better then it was at the regular price before the event. This country has become so greedy it is sicken. With the way everything is we should not be spending the thousands of dollars it is going to take to do the inauguration. Take the money and feed some homeless people not have a big party when so many people are hurting. GREED, GREED.GREED

    December 4, 2008 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  25. JD

    Just amazing how some people can find a way to criticize such an extraordinary act.

    Criticism #1: For those of you who feel that the money could have been put to better use – I disagree because an experience such as this will surely positively impact each person’s life and carry them on to better times. Giving people hope and a reason to believe in this country again is priceless.

    Criticism #2: I don’t care what color the people selected are, but I hope that some of the people who were left destitute in New Orleans are selected. Katrina was one of the most disgusting events in our history (in my opinion, second only to slavery).

    December 4, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
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