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. Calvin

    Now THAT's country first! Hats off to you, sir!!

    December 4, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  2. bhogan

    A real American.

    December 4, 2008 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  3. David in TX

    To Christy ...

    Out loud, I found myself saying, "Oh my God! How ridiculous." This story is about a very generous individual who is willing to give of his time and money for a good cause. This is not a race issue. I'm not either Black or White, but I'll tell you ... Black AND White Americans need to stop calling people racists when they themselves are using racist remarks. Your remarks were comletely offbase, off color and ridiculously racist in and of themselves. Please take that chip off your shoulder, seek therapy and if ready, enjoy the festivities with bretheren of ALL colors on January 20th. SHEESH!

    December 4, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  4. Dee Dee Lynn

    I agree with most of the posts on here. This is the kind of thing President-Elect Obama said his campaign was about–not only what he could do, but what we could do. He was hoping to inspire all of us to work on behalf of others, to care for others, to do what we could to improve the country and the world. Mr. Stafford answered his call. God Bless him for giving ordinary Americans the chance to participate in history.

    To those denouncing this, you come across as heartless, selfish, cynical, judgemental , bigoted, and unmoved by the generosity of others. You are essentially reinforcing the idea most Americans have of the Republican Party, and frankly, you are contributing to its demise. That's fine. Keep talking...

    December 4, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  5. Prakash, Canada

    What a good deed. Its nice to read and hear such news. Good people like Obama inspires good things in people. More news out of the USA that makes people outside the US like the US for a change after 8 years of you know what

    December 4, 2008 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  6. Zaga

    SEE folks, spreading the wealth is not a bad/socialist thing, if's a GOD thing.

    Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

    Thank you for sharing your wealth Mr. Stafford, thank you. God bless you.....

    December 4, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  7. Confused by You

    I am confused by you M. Brown, and the others whose comments have followed suit...
    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……
    Where in this story were the races of those selected to go mentioned, I certainly did not see it. I don't see why so many are offended by such a selfless gesture. Even if every last one of the people selected were black, why should it make a difference to you. There are so many instances in which blacks are excluded and nobody notices because it is status quo. I don't know about where you live, but in my city, most of the taxpayer money spent on revitalizing neighborhoods goes to historically white neighborhoods while street lights and road conditions in predominately black neighborhoods are in serious need of repair, but who cares then right. If Mr. Stafford chooses to spend his money to let poverty-stricken and terminally ill black Americans be a part of the inauguration of the first black president in the history of this country who are you to complain, it's not like he is using federal dollars.

    December 4, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  8. Jaye

    This is simply incredible!
    Anyone that helps the poor the homeless the military (anyone that has no means to attend the inauguration) to attend this historic event is truly an amazing person.
    KUDOS galore to him!

    December 4, 2008 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  9. ???

    Let the man choose who he wants to send! Me, I'm not interested, not because it's Obama, I just don't care to attend. I got things to take care of here at home.

    December 4, 2008 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  10. Michelle, PA

    "…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."


    What a beautiful expression of the American spirit. Thank you, Mr. Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  11. Maggie Staples

    I am a Purchasing Buyer in the Automotive Industry and will soon be unemployed (12/19). It would be such an honor if given the opportunity to attend the inauguration. In addition, I will be so ever thankful for the kindness and the experience.

    What a Blessing this would be!!!!

    December 4, 2008 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  12. hometowndemocrat

    Well done Mr. Stafford!

    December 4, 2008 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  13. PD Thomas

    It's curious why he could not just be a 60 year old business man...there had to be mention that he was black... We couldn't just be proud of a citizen of this country doing a kind gesture...makes you wonder if the story was written to highlight the deed or to insert race where it really wasn't necessary...good job CNN...

    December 4, 2008 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  14. Jim

    Amazing. It is absolutely inspiring to see people give of their blessings to people less fortunate.

    December 4, 2008 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  15. Gene

    And Obama continues to inspire...

    I'm sure there will be some hateful people out there with vile spewing over a feel good story like this

    December 4, 2008 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  16. mb

    What a wonderful thing to do, I am sure that President Obama will get to that ball and be so appreciative of this gesture by Mr. Stafford.

    May God Bless you Mr. Stafford and may God Bless America.

    December 4, 2008 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  17. Maggie in NYS

    I just KNEW there would be people on here saying "He should be giving to this" or "He should be giving to that." Are you people who are saying this republicans, by any chance? It's funny – you don't want your tax dollars to be spent on any social programs (screaming socialism, which it isn't – socialism is more like government ownership of homes, like buying up mortgages, or government ownership of business, like buying up bank stocks, you know, what the current administration is doing). Yet, you feel like you ought to be able to dictate what someone else spends their after-tax dollars on, and criticize anyone who spends money on something you happen to disagree with. Typical, and hypocritical. But you know what – it's HIS money, it's a FREE country, and he can give money to anyone he wants! I say, kudos to this very generous man!

    December 4, 2008 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  18. wanbligi

    What a brilliant gesture by Mr. Stafford to help the less fortunate attend the Presidential Inauguration. Those attending the Presidential Inauguration will remember the experience for the rest of their lives and be instilled with hope and understanding that the world can change for the better, giving them a much brighter outlook on life than the traditional fruit basket has ever done.

    Thank you, Mr. Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  19. Bill San Diego

    What a generous donation! What a bunch of dumb moronic responses from Obamam supporters...probably the same people that put "He's not my president" and "01.20.09" during the Bush presidency.

    My guess is from his background and the fact that the news article didn't spew that he was a democrat that this good man is a Republican.

    December 4, 2008 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  20. Consuela

    PD Thomas,

    You know what? I hadn't read the word black, now that you mention it I returned to the text and you are totally right and I agree with you. They could just say it's from a businness man. when the man is white, do we mention it? I don't think so.

    December 4, 2008 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  21. Nicoleallmond

    This is truly beautiful.

    December 4, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  22. Crystal

    God Bless Mr. Stafford!

    And he didn't ask for a bailout! Let's see what the other execs and millionaires do for the less fortunate..........yeah, time will definitely tell.

    I hope those who benefit from his generosity remember this as one of the most significant events to happen in generations to come.

    December 4, 2008 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  23. EW

    This is the way it should be. A wealthy businessman wanting to give back to the people. If everyone that could afford to would give a little back, this country could become the shining star of the world once again.

    And shame on CNN for bringing up the color of his skin. It shouldn't matter at all. The color of one's skin says nothing about the content of one's heart, mind and character.

    December 4, 2008 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  24. Shut up...Please!

    I wonder if it would be such a "race thing" if Mr. Stafford were white. I just can't imagine that race would even come into the picture.... geez, some of you are such ignoramuses that it pains me to respond to your blogs, but I can't help myself.

    Pathetic, pitiful, unhappy, racist people with a sense of entitlement that they feel is threatened. Live and let live because you're born, you cry, bleed, grow, pee, hurt, celebrate and then die, just like every other race on this earth. Get over yourselves. That false sense of entitlement is just that false. You don't get because you get because you deserve.


    You guys get on my nerves...badly!

    December 4, 2008 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  25. Stacy from Loudoun County VA

    Fantastic, that is stepping up to the plate and putting 'We, the People' who elected Barack Obama as POTUS first. Mr. Stafford does a lot of commendable work, this is a small part and thank you sir.

    December 4, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
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