December 4th, 2008
12:15 PM ET
10 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. Kay

    I can't help wondering if this was a white businessman would there be any questions about who he was going to invite. Probably not! But because he's a black businessman, people want to know if only blacks will be invited. What a double standard!

    Whoever he invites, let's remember it's his money and may God Bless him for giving people the chance to witness something that may only come once in a lifetime.

    December 4, 2008 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  2. O! LORD dwell in our hearts in truth and deeds. Amen

    This story is what christianity is about, made me ashamed of not doing what i can in my capacity and reminded me The LORD still dwells in our hearts if we choose to let Him that is.

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

    How does one sign up for this historical experience?

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

    Regarding M. Brown December 4th, 2008 12:41 pm ET thinly veiled racist views arising from ignorance or fear. Judging by spelling ability … it is “hypocrite” not “hippocrite” … it is ignorance. Please close your eyes and open your mind … with your eyes closed there is no black and white, just people.

    December 4, 2008 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  5. hypocrisy?

    How many millions of daollars are being spent on this event? I thought the economy was "in the tank". Looks like Americans have plenty of expendable income from what I see. I guess we wouldn't want to put any of those millions towards education, or those without food, would we . . .

    December 4, 2008 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  6. O! LORD dwell in our hearts in truth and deeds. Amen

    Penny December 4th, 2008 10:38 am ET

    Mr. Stafford's one in a lifetime Inauguration gift to those who are disadvantaged is wonderful. His generosity demonstrates that his wealth far exceeds his money.

    I agree. wow!

    December 4, 2008 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  7. Adam Smith TX, USA

    May President (elect) have more Earl Staffords and the like during his historic tenure.

    Except for taping her show there OPRAH WINFREY is not splashing any money in this event?

    December 4, 2008 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  8. Tara

    Now that is something big. And for those asking is it only for black people....don't be ridiculous.
    Now that is generousity at its finest. Jeez Obama is kind of inspirational! I've never been so excited to see an Inaguration before!

    December 4, 2008 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  9. xcusme

    Wow! Someone paying it forward. Someone giving back. Wow, what a concept. Maybe there is hope for the human race. Well done Mr. Stafford. May God continue to bless you.

    December 4, 2008 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  10. Mike

    It never ceases to amaze me.... The number of people who are so miserable they can take an incredibly kind gesture and rip into it in an attempt to make it a bad thing. What a horrible way it must be to go through life.

    For those who want to criticize how he's donating his money..... He obviously raised it. It's his right. He doesn't have to give back a thing. Some of these people he's sending may have waited their entire life to see this day. If spending it on food, or other things is your cause, then go for it! If he wants to send only African-Americans, then that's his decision too!

    If you really must find something to complain about, then how about the people who are taking free tickets and selling them out of greed. Where's the call for them to donate the money to the causes? In eithe case, I hope the critics have spent the same amount of money for charitable causes before telling him how he should be spending his. Who's to say he hasn't donated similar amounts to other cause?

    December 4, 2008 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  11. Patti/Maryland

    What a wonderful, beautiful thing to do! This is truly so generous; words cannot express the beauty of this act. Who knows what great things will happen in the future because of the seeds that Mr. Stafford has planted. God has blessed you and may He continue to do so.

    December 4, 2008 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  12. nothings for free

    I wouldn't accept it. Gifts don't come to the president for free.

    December 4, 2008 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  13. C.T.

    Hello, read the article. The man said he was bringing in a cross-section of people. Stop the madness and recognize the good just for today.

    December 4, 2008 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  14. Tess

    This should make the front page, headline news rather than two for one cars (no offense to the car dealerships and their difficulties)! Mr. Stafford is a true American hero and his goodness deserves front and center recognition. Tess

    December 4, 2008 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  15. Corbett

    Barack Obama will most likely get a lot of (deserved) credit for "healing America" and stuff like that. But Mr. Stafford deserves top billing for todays healing.

    December 4, 2008 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  16. Anonymous


    (the inauguration should be free – let every hotels and sleeping spaces be offered for free in the true spirit of the american dream and with the realities of our hard economic times!)

    The inauguration is Free, but hotels are run by business' and they employ people to cook clean and take care of guest... it is called business... as it is for the farmer who raise the food servered...

    Now :CHANGE HAS COME TO AMERICAN – FINALLY!!!, what part are you offering to give????

    This was a nice jesture by this man who decided to it... I don't care what color the people are who enjoy it...It is up to him who he picks... good for him, good for those who get something from it....

    December 4, 2008 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  17. Charm

    What an inspiring, unselfish and beautiful thing to do! Hats off to Mr. Stafford and his foundation. 🙂 I especially like that veterans will be included in his lucky 100s. I really hope that Mr. Stafford's actions will inspire others to do the same.

    December 4, 2008 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  18. Armondo

    Um... why was Mr. Stafford's race pertinent to this article at all? The fact that it needs to be pointed out reveals that there are still some very deep racial divides in this country, and charitable things like this are going to be overshadowed by the inevitable racial questions:

    – What if he only allows blacks?
    – Is it bad if he chooses to only allow blacks?
    – Is it not as charitable if he hand-picks who to give the packages to?

    WHO CARES??? The fact is that Mr. Stafford is doing a wonderful thing for several people who, in his eyes (and many others), are deserving. There's no need for the article to point out his race, and there's no need for other commenters to focus on it whatsoever. Doing so proves that we still have great distances to travel on the road to being a truly equal nation.

    December 4, 2008 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  19. Meh

    Christy> Hmmm. That's a pretty racist attitude. Obama is everyone's president, not just the black community's.

    Hopefully Mr. Stafford doesn't share your views.

    Anonymous> No-one can survive on McDonald's wages. Read "Nickeled and Dimed". It will really open your eyes to the plight of the working poor in this country. Even TWO min. wage jobs do not pay the bills.

    December 4, 2008 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  20. Art

    Christy – you have completely missed the whole point of change! Change will be when there is a sea of white, black, asian, indian etc people at the inaguration! Instead of considering races of people being there, just consider them as people regardless of color, religion, etc. That's change . . . .

    December 4, 2008 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  21. Steve in VA

    "Commentary: Plan for bailout money doesn't make sense" – Campbell Brown

    LOL. When does anything the government does make sense? Look at who we just elected as President and the people who are going to be running the country. Does that make sense? No. But it is what it is.

    December 4, 2008 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  22. G

    That's the nicest story I heard all day and for those of you complaining you all are just a bunch of sour you know what. Smile for once in your life it's not that hard.

    December 4, 2008 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  23. Christy

    Who's the racist now???

    December 4, 2008 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  24. Watermann

    @ Emit R Detsaw 12.23 pm et
    Yes, that is the greatest part of the story. He didn`t release the story but the hotel did. CNN you missed that part.

    December 4, 2008 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  25. dan

    I am starting to grow tired of of the premise held by many African-Americans that only white Republicans are racist. I didn't vote for Obama, but I wish him success in his Presidency because we all know there's a long list of problems to address and we all have a lot at stake. I wish those on the left would stop with all the name's not helpful.

    December 4, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
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