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. MLH

    What a wonderful thing, Mr. Stafford. Thank you. We need more people like you.

    December 4, 2008 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  2. you know it

    Now that's cool! That's what wealth is for. Helping others that are less fortunate. They will remember this for the rest of their lives. Only if the Republicans can receive this spirit of giving which comes from Christ.

    December 4, 2008 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  3. bruce

    Is this the "Miracle on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave"? Santa does truly exist! Thank you, Mr stafford.

    December 4, 2008 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  4. nate

    Theres a really nice longer piece on him in the WP:

    December 4, 2008 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  5. Generosity

    Why can’t more people be like this guy?

    December 4, 2008 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  6. Ted van Tol

    It's all in the spirit of Barack Obama.
    And it is just the beginning!
    Wait till he met the leaders of Russia, Isreal and Iran, he
    will achieve a great spirit of cooperation. He wil inspire
    this world to make the change for the better. From the bottum up.
    Starting with every individual American and ending with people all over the world. We, here in Europe also feel the wind of change and
    we are so proud to see Barack in the White House.
    He realy wil be a great and historic president.
    America, please keep him safe!!!!!

    Ted van Tol
    The Netherlands

    December 4, 2008 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  7. Brain in DC

    Thank you.

    December 4, 2008 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  8. Jacqueline Houpe

    I would also like to know where I could sign up for it too.

    December 4, 2008 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  9. Zaga, TX

    Matthew 19:21 (New King James Version)
    21 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.”

    December 4, 2008 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  10. Candyce

    I agree. This brings tears to my eyes! Not only because you are doing it, but also because you even THOUGHT

    December 4, 2008 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  11. Jordan in San Marcos, TX

    If all wealthy people had the heart that this guy obviously has, the world would be a much better place.

    December 4, 2008 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  12. Ellen

    I would like to donate to the "Stafford Foundation," but can't find a link. Can someone out there direct me to the right website?

    December 4, 2008 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  13. Tiaunia, Texas

    I'm glad to see more people will be able to attend who simply cannot afford to go...

    I wish I met the criteria, I will wonderdal day in history...

    (Sighing...Can someone donate funds so that I may attend as well)

    December 4, 2008 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  14. Iroko Nija

    Mr.Stafford is indeed a man sent from heaven with a Heart of GOLD. I have read about this man and his family. They are humble and truly loves God and their fellow human beings. Try checking out what the Stafford Foundation has done in the lives of very many Americans. Let us all appreciate the gift of God, while also pleading with people like Christy to put aside the bitterness of racism. America is in dare need of so many Staffords and I am confident many more will soon turn up to give a helping hand to the failling economy and to individual Americans who can no longer afford to live a standardised life. God bless you Mr.Stafford and your entire generation,even the yet unborn.

    December 4, 2008 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  15. Candyce

    agree. This brings tears to my eyes! Not only because you are doing it, but also because you even THOUGHT of doing it. So many of us sit around and wait for good to happen and wait for someone to make a move. I admire this in you. I do not have much but I do not mind donating to this very worthy cause. I cannot afford to take myself or my mother to this wonderful event, but I would love to have a small part in helping someone else's dream come true.

    December 4, 2008 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  16. Tiaunia, Texas

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    I'm glad to see more people will be able to attend who simply cannot afford to go…

    I wish I met the criteria, It will be a wonderful day in history…

    (Sighing…Can someone donate funds so that I may attend as well)

    I had waaay too many typo's to simply Do we get take backs CNN???

    December 4, 2008 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  17. Unconditional love

    I was always proud of America.

    December 4, 2008 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  18. Indy in CA

    Based on some of the comments here, I read the story 3 times. At no time does it mention that Mr. Stafford was directing his largess to only black people, yet some of the posts have the nerve to question if the benificiaries will all be black. Why? Why I am I reading posts describing reverse racism against "non minorities?" Why not just read the story without trying to read something into it?

    December 4, 2008 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  19. Sarah Palin BF

    Wow A weathy businessman doing something good for someone else other than himself! Imagine that!....another Wow for he his black...............

    December 4, 2008 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  20. Chelle

    Some people just don't get it.

    December 4, 2008 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  21. strong

    I know this won't get past the CNN moderators ... but so many of these posts on here seem too cutesy, too sweet and syrupy. Are they fake posts or legit ones? Not every one can agree with what Mr. Stafford is doing.

    As for me, I am neutral. Sure, it would be fun to go to an inauguration, but it IS lavish in this economic climate. My opinion. Who am I to tell a multi-millionaire how to spend his money?

    December 4, 2008 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  22. Laverne

    Indeed this is a lovely gesture by Mr. Stafford. America has come so far and still has so far to go. The bigotry and hatred that has been imbedded in the minds and hearts of some Americans is so disheartening and disappointing. Barack Obama is not going through anything less than black people before him. White people could never understand the struggle, the pain and the rejection from a country who says "we are all created equal", but have not experienced that equality most or their lives. I am a white women and I can sympathize, but will never totally understand. I share in the joy and hope the black community are feeling because of Obama's success and victory. Just think about it, if you lived in a country where there were only blacks for hundreds of years and you experienced racial discrimination because you were white and struggled just to be treated like a person and respected and then a white man suddenly rose to power beating the odds, how would you feel as a people, white people that is??????? Listen, the oppressor and the oppressed see the world through different eyes. I pray for our nation as a people because someone will have to answer to all the hatred and misjustice of God's people. Please do remember, blacks are God's people too and the bible tells "what you do to the least, you do until me"

    December 4, 2008 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |

    does anyone know his email address i would like to ask if i can get in on the thing as well!

    December 4, 2008 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  24. MaryJo Bruce Surprise, Ariz

    How about cutting down some of that bling going on for the inaugration. Of course the average person couldn't afford to attend. As uaual it a will go on and on and on.

    December 4, 2008 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  25. JNC, California

    THAT'S WONDERFUL!! For all of you that just have to be negative, well its really a shame!! Everybody needs one special moment in their lifetime...Goes to show that people can make a difference with just alittle bit of kindness!!!!

    December 4, 2008 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
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