December 4th, 2008
12:15 PM ET
5 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. Jon from Indiana

    I sure hope that whoever receives this generousity has a great time on inauguration day. I also hope that once these poverty-stricken or disabled people go back to their lives on January 21, they value that one luxurious experience more than the sum of what it cost Mr. Stafford. I'm reminded of some parable about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish. Which one was better for the recipient?

    December 4, 2008 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  2. boered1

    CNN please add a link so those of us here who want to help in this endevour have a place to send what little remaining money we have. this is an inspiring story, and while it may be only one day of food, comfort, and exposure to many who post on here, for the terminal, the poor, and the veterans who recieve this gift it will be much more it will be making them a part of our nations history. Many of them can not just stay home and watch it on TV as not many cardboard "homes" have a TV.

    So again I request CNN please give us a link to the Stafford Foundation

    December 4, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  3. G

    It's truly a blessing for Mr. Stafford to be able to bless other people with such a gift. I know there are a lot of people that are way less fortunate so I am wishing them all the best and I hope they enjoy the event! If I was able to bless people with such a gift I would do so myself. it's a good thing!!

    December 4, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  4. Derek

    A shining example of not only an American, but a Human-Being. Hats off to Mr. Stafford

    December 4, 2008 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  5. Relieved

    With all the depressing news about the economy and terrorism abroad, its refreshing to read something about someone as inspirational as Mr. Stafford. This is the America that was and can be the leader of the free world.

    December 4, 2008 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  6. Texan for Obama

    WHAT A GREAT GUY!!! THANK YOU SIR!!

    December 4, 2008 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  7. Tex

    Isnt this one of those nasty filthy rich people making over 250K that Mr. Obama want to tax??

    December 4, 2008 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  8. Liam

    Amid all of the chaos of our greedy and covetous society a good deed exists and shines through. There is no greater glory than the love of fellow man, for in that love is love of god.

    December 4, 2008 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  9. bsmith171

    cancel the inauguration for the god of the country's economic health.

    give the money to the mortgage holders.

    December 4, 2008 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  10. Joshua College Station Texas

    this is very honorable and sets a great example to all of us

    December 4, 2008 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  11. what kind of bigot wrote this ticker story?

    I am looking forward to the day when all the bigots, either in the closet, or out, get weeded out of society.

    Some day soon hopefully CNN will moderate its reporters and writers as they moderate these comments before we get posted to the blog.

    A "black businessman"?? Is that how he described himself to you? When was the last time a "sorta white" or " yellow businessman", or "average dark skinned Latino" was written about?

    Are we going to refer to Barrack Obama as the "Black President"??

    CNN management needs to act here and remove that offensive copy.

    December 4, 2008 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  12. 60 year old white catholic woman for obama

    may god bless this man and his family. what a truly american thing to do. the veterans and poor people being given this chance to see how the top 1% live and party i think that is great. whatever he chooses to do and how he decides is his choice. color should have nothing to do with it but lets face facts people, color affects everything we do, how we act, how we respond to people and its about time we acknowledge that fact. i do not know what it is like growing up black in america but i do believe it can change some people, whether or not we are able to accept that fact. here we see people speaking about who will get these tickets black or white and color should have nothing to do with it. it is mr staffords money and he's the "decider" and however he decides its still a wonderful thing he is doing.

    December 4, 2008 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  13. Jay

    Outstanding. Truly remarkable, and truly a gesture that has welcomed the return of democracy to America. With one election the cynicisim of the poor, silenced and disenfranchised has been wiped away. Only time will now tell if this is as great a moment as it seems.

    December 4, 2008 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  14. Gina in Racine Wi

    May God Bless this generous Man, who has such a big heart.
    Mr. Stafford is truly an American Hero. I think he should be an example to all of us.

    December 4, 2008 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  15. Rae

    A very generous man. We could use more like you Mr. Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  16. Beverly

    Perhaps if John McCain was in "black face", it would ease tension for those of you who simply cannot get beyond the fact the Barack Obama is a Black Man, and "Oh by the way the President of the United States"! You'd take pleasure and be at peace in knowing that beneath that facade is a "white man". Sounds soothing already? You see, while some simply want say it, the color of Barack's skin, regardless if he was 59 years old with 25 years of experience, is and has been, throughout the 22-month campaign, the HUGE pick elephant in the room. Reagan had ABSOLUTELY no political experience, but he was a "white man", so that trumped everything. Get off the "no experience" wagon. I, like many Barack supporters, both black and white, are resolved to the fact that regardless of what OUR PRESIDENT does, how effectively he does it..and he will be effective, and how it positively affects the nay-sayers, some will NEVER accept the fact that he is President of the United States. Their conscious will NEVER, EVER let them. What pity and a shame! President Obama is not even in office yet and so many of the nay-sayer and negative bigots already know what he's NOT going to do! Poor nay-sayers never want change, they just want supremecy. However, there's an out! Flee, get out NOW and go into complete exile forever! It would be a llot ess harder and would save a heck of a lot of energy frome not having to spew negativity.

    December 4, 2008 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  17. G

    WHAT A GREAT COUNTRY WE LIVE IN!!!!!!!

    December 4, 2008 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  18. Gia in Los Angeles, CA

    This warms my heart. What a wonderful gesture from a wonderful person. This is what America is about.

    December 4, 2008 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  19. G

    People just leave it alone! Why is there such a big fuss that they mentioned a black man? So what they said black! When needed to be mentioned about a white man doing something so nice, they mention it! The fact of the matter is some people just can't get over the fact that a black man has been elected into the office for president. All this time we have had a white man in the office and some people have come to think that's the way it's supposed to be. Well get over it you jerks because it's time for a change! We have all types of nationalities living here and if they qualify to be the president, then so be it!

    December 4, 2008 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  20. ShawnT

    Wow. Very impressive. The military deserve this, and the ill will know that there are some people who do care about them.

    At a time of national crisis like this, more fortunate people should help the less fortunate. I hope more people step up and do the same.

    December 4, 2008 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  21. ShawnT

    I would encourage all CNN readers to do their part and donate to Mr. Stafford's non-profit org 'Stafford Foundation' which is paying for this wonderful move.

    December 4, 2008 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  22. Bruce, Chicago

    Wow. This is one of the nicest gestures I have ever seen. I did not vote for President-elect Obama but no matter who or what you support this is a historic event, and the folks who will be able to attend thanks to Mr. Stafford are the perfect choice. If people continue to be inspired to do things like this I will be MORE than happy to admit I voted for the wrong guy. Well done, sir.

    December 4, 2008 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  23. F in SC

    Now there's a man with heart! What a great example for all.

    December 4, 2008 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  24. Susan

    What a generous gesture! As a survivor of a major illness, I can only imagine what that will mean to the recipients - a true gift of a lifetime!

    December 4, 2008 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  25. Annie, Atlanta

    I don't know you, Earl Stafford, but God bless you just the same! It's good to hear stories like this, especially at times like this.

    December 4, 2008 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
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