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. Lost in Texas FOREVER

    It's really grat that there is a wealthy person willing to give back to the people of our nation, yet for some reason there are people here that STILL find something wrong with what he's doing. Is it just because it's the Obama inaugural and some people just can't let their bitterness go? Great Christmas spirit from some of those that claim to be on the CHRISTIAN right!

    December 4, 2008 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  2. Angie

    ealityKing December 4th, 2008 11:43 am ET

    I see a lot more need out here than seeing Obama. Unless of course…, the touching of his gown heals??

    December 4, 2008 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  3. The Truth

    well I guess the wealthy are more caring than some suppose. Entrepreneurship is common among the wealthy, looks like raising taxes on them wouldnt be such a good thing when they do so much for charity. No, I suppose it would be wiser to give them less money so charity organizations can do less and less. Looks like business wins out again, but no we should further regulate business so it forces more outsourcing. ahhh how misinformed liberals are.

    December 4, 2008 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  4. Angie

    ealityKing December 4th, 2008 11:43 am ET

    I see a lot more need out here than seeing Obama. Unless of course…, the touching of his gown heals??
    ______________________________________________________ you sound very bitter. you are a sad little person. If this gentleman is doing this, how do you know what other wonderful things he has done? I think this is a wonderful thing. The individuals that he selects are probably very excited and I'm sure will appreciate this very much. It is always people like you who do NOTHING for others and are always critical of people who do extend a helping hand.

    December 4, 2008 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  5. Jesus

    Obama isn't really Jesus you know.

    December 4, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  6. obama-mama

    Partying are you sniffing glue? What?

    December 4, 2008 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  7. Joe

    Wow Beverly – I think your comment about negativity was perhaps the most negative comment yet – congratulations – you're a hypocrite!!

    December 4, 2008 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  8. Lynn in NM

    Why don't all of you who are paying millions for these inauguration parties just donate it to the needy? After all, Obama wants change, doesn't he? He should want to "share the wealth" with the poor people who have problems eating and paying their bills instead of having all of these parties. I don't hear him saying anything about this huge waste of money!

    December 4, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |

    as i started reading down the Blogs I saw a BUNCH of Obama supporters, and they where saying nice things and was moved by Thsi brite MAN, THEN...................................................... HERE COMES THOSE HATEFUL REPUBLICANS AND THOSE WHACKO SARAH PALIN FOLLOWERS, WHO NEED HELP!! AND THEY ARE JUST TURNING THIS WONDERFUL ARTICLE INTO SOMETHING BADD! STOP! GO AWAY!



    December 4, 2008 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  10. Bill, ca

    To: Maggie Staples

    What you are refering to is communism not solcialism.

    Look, in western europe their are Socialist Democratic Party's in power at various times and there is hardly a difference from your republican party.

    In germany for instance the Socialist Democatric Party once in a while have to clean up they capitalistic mess when in power from the Christian Democratic Party.
    Just like in America when the Democratic Party has to clean up the mess from the Republicans.

    So don't give me that BS because, I lived for a number of years under communist rules, there is a big difference.

    December 4, 2008 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  11. Joe

    Laverne – that was the most moronic, imbicilic, illogical, irrational comment that I have yet seen posted –

    This country did not exist in its current form for hundreds of years as all white people –

    You should seriously consider getting an education someday!

    December 4, 2008 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  12. Obama Supporter All the Way

    Thanks goodness there are still good people in office. I think this is great!!!

    December 4, 2008 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  13. Creth Davis

    son of a Baptist minister... that didn't teach him how capital punishment is Biblical and abortion, homosexuality is not?

    that's what I found sooooo appalling during the election, how they'd go to these black churches where they have a television set up on the pulpit and the congregation as well as the pastor were/are celebrating Obama's election?

    December 4, 2008 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  14. obama change?

    That's a very nice gesture by mr. stattford, but who's worried about Obama's big party. There are people that can't put food on the table, or people who can't heat their homes, if they still have a home left. People that can't provide for their children.

    About a month ago Obama's team was worried about the inaguration, they only had 9 million dollars to spend. I know this is a big event, but let's put first things first. If they can't through a party for 9 million dollars,[which would feed and house a lot of people] then forget it, give the 9 million dollars to people that are less fortunate.

    God is watching us, right is right, 9 million dollars for a party is a disgrace, when they are so many people hurting.

    December 4, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  15. obama-mama

    To all the people that think this entire inaugural event is too over the top, take a look at all the parties GW is having at the White House for the Holidays and how much he is spending. Not to mention the parties but they just announced they purchased a new home for when they leave the White House. This all from taxpayers money....Obama's inaugural is from willing donors, not taxpayers money.

    December 4, 2008 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  16. HouseDiva

    that's a very kind gesture.

    now that's how you "spread the wealth"

    republicans need to learn the difference; if they are capable of learning

    December 4, 2008 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  17. Hussein Mberwa, NY

    I wish we had more people like Mr Stafford.. it is great to see how the president elect inspires already even before he is in the oval office. thank you Mr stafford and God bless you for what you did and are doing.. may God protect the president elect and his family..

    December 4, 2008 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  18. S Callahan

    This is what the word of God means when it's said:
    To whom much is given much , much is expected.

    Bless this man for giving individuals a meaningful experience, for some it's a 'once a lifetime' experience. And the way life is, he will get an experience 100 fold in return. This makes me so pleased to read this article. Thanks CNN for posting this Ticker.

    December 4, 2008 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  19. once upon a horse

    A real nice gesture and a nice humanitarian story, yet it still gets some negative comments from those who don't support Obama. Sometimes I just wonder if my country will EVER be united.

    December 4, 2008 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  20. Dallas, tx

    to 'obama change?' – if Obama's inauguration is 9 million it will be actually on the low side. The second Bush inauguration cost over 40 million.
    My other comment is to express my disappointment at the sharp comments on here regarding republicans. just because many of us are glad to see them out of the white house for awhile, it doesn't warrant mean-spirited language when referring to our fellow americans, just because they have modestly different opinions on how our country should be run.

    December 4, 2008 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  21. Penny

    Can I say something to all of you who say the money can go to other things. How do you know Mr. Stafford isn't already contributing to the poor, education, etc. He has a foundation. What he is doing is adding joy to lives that probably would never have the opportunity to enjoy this type of service in there whole lives. People can live on the experience for years, to say I was there – and in style.

    So just bless this gentleman and ask yourself when was the last time you gave something to someone – just because you could.

    December 4, 2008 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  22. Laverne

    To Obama change?: The disgrace is spending 10 billions dollars a month x 7 years (over 84 billion dollars in Irag alone) is the disgrace. You want to talk about right is right and wrong is wrong. What about all the people who have lost their love ones because of a war that was started because of a right out lie to the American people, what about the way we treated our own when Katrina hit New Orleans. You sir, don't make any sense in your reasoning. If you want to call a spade a spade then do that, but don't you dare try to make it seem as if Obama's inauguration is a disgrace, especially when most of the money was raised from donors who can do whatever they choose to do with their money unlike the rest of us who have had to support a war whether we wanted to or not.

    December 4, 2008 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  23. Frank

    All I can say is, Bless Him!

    December 4, 2008 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  24. JG in Texas

    This is a genuine post, regardless of how schmaltzy you cynics think it is. The inauguration gift is one of the loveliest gestures I have ever seen. This man is an angel to do such a kind deed for so many. Does it solve hunger or bring world peace? Sorry, it doesn't. It just is a wonderful act of kindness in an unkind world, and will undoubtedly remain a bright memory for the rest of the recipients' lives.

    December 4, 2008 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  25. Robin in SC

    What a great "feel good" story for the holidays! It does, however, bother me that so many apparently begrudge Mr. Stafford's generosity using the economy as a reason to bash the "bash." I see this as akin to the Make A Wish Foundation...for God's sake...most of the people Stafford is making this available to could never in their wildest dreams think of witnessing such a historic, once-in-a-lifetime even but he's making it possible. No doubt he gives millions to other charities that help on a more basic level. Would you tell Make A Wish not to send that child to Disneyworld but instead to pay for another chemo treatment??? Have a heart folks!

    December 4, 2008 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
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