December 4th, 2008
12:15 PM ET
6 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. michael belcher

    This is great, I don't have a sad story to tell as I am sure I could think of many but I would love to go an bring wife as she has for many years felt OBAMA would make history. What do I need to do to be so privileged in order to attend? Thank you for being so generous even if I am not one of the chose.

    December 4, 2008 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
  2. Nina

    What a wonderful thing to do. God Bless.

    December 4, 2008 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  3. Marie banderas

    Given that this is a bad economy period in time, many want the inaugeration kept to a minium, HOWEVER, it is also an extremely historic time for America, and should be celebrated and congratulated, and I feel like thisa man knows that, as well as Oprah does..we DO have much to celebrate in this history making time..even the rest of the world knows that too..so let Obama have his time in the sun too, will be plenty of time for his God awful job following..at least send him INTO the white house in good spirits..Just wish we could be there too..God Bless OBAMA

    December 4, 2008 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  4. Curtis - Marietta, GA

    The best part of this story is right here -> "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."

    I couldn't have said it better myself.

    December 4, 2008 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  5. Biff

    Just phenominal.

    December 4, 2008 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  6. Middleman

    I'm in favor of anything that gives an opportunity to the veterans and the voiceless to play a role in an event that is supposed to be a celebration of US democracy. The peaceful transfer of power from leader to leader, especially during a change of the political party in power, is the benchmark we should be setting for the world.

    I worry for our country when I see only the rich, powerful, or connected people getting to attend the functioning parts of our democracy. While this is just one man, one rich man, I applaud his efforts to give a place in the process to the people who normally wouldn't have the options or ability to be there.

    December 4, 2008 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  7. wow

    What a good person; I wish the media would focus more on people and things like this. Knowing that someone like Stafford is out there just about made my day.

    December 4, 2008 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  8. Laverne

    That is such a nice thing to do for the less fortunate! This is going to be a grand and certainlyl historical event. I plan to attend and am very grateful I will be able to attend without the millionaire's help.

    December 4, 2008 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  9. Anonymous

    nice deal indeed.

    December 4, 2008 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  10. IndyVoter

    Good on you Mr. Stafford. May God bless you!

    December 4, 2008 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  11. Jim Schimmer

    Thats so nice!

    God bless him. We need more people like him.

    December 4, 2008 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  12. Annie

    What a fabulous human being! We can all learn from examples like this.

    December 4, 2008 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  13. Mickie

    God Bless him! It's easy to see why he is so successful – just the fact that he was smart enough to rent a bloc of rooms early on is a good indicator but then add the return via Karma for giving to others who are less fortunate. I too voted for Obama but do not agree with all of his policies, but I certainly like his principles better than any other candidate I've seen.

    December 4, 2008 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  14. Nikunj from Sugar Land, TX

    What a generous gesture. God bless Mr. Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  15. petena

    My hats off to you Earl! You are an example of great leadership.

    December 4, 2008 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  16. obama-mama

    Wow....I won't be there but I'll surely be watching on tv. This is so exciting....I wish Obama and his family all the best.

    December 4, 2008 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  17. Penny

    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.

    December 4, 2008 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  18. Majack

    LOL

    December 4, 2008 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  19. Mike

    Great story about a great man. This country needs more people like him.

    December 4, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  20. marc- belvidere, il

    That is absolutley amazing. It is great to see someone, who is as succesfull as this man, come fourth to help out. Familys would give anything to share the experience in January. It is just way too much money, and this man is making dreams come true for people like us!

    December 4, 2008 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  21. Dee Williams

    This is absolutely awesome, if he will actualy make it happen for the people he says it is for. He is a true American that loves the country. Now if more will follow in his footsteps that can afford to do so, that would be even more awesome.

    These are the people that are forgotten about in this country, the distressed, the ill, & the disadvantaged.

    God Bless Mr Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  22. Angie-OHIO

    Mr Earl Stafford, I don't know you but, God bless you for being so very thoughtful and caring. There should be more people like you.

    December 4, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  23. Dutch/VA

    What a great thing to do. Why won't all millionaires do this or something similar to it? This is the most anticipated inaugaration ever and all Americans should be able to take part in it. I'm also proud to see that this gentleman is from VA and representing our completely BLUE Commonwealth.

    December 4, 2008 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  24. Joe

    Oprah thinks that there has never been anything that compares to this in the history of the planet earth...

    wow

    She & Obama together really are the anti-christ...

    Just when I thought that her head could not get any fatter...there she goes...

    What a joke this administration will be...there will be big shows and showboaters...but absolutely zero substance...

    let the campaigning begin for 2012

    December 4, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  25. Katherine White

    That is a very honorable move. I know that the ones who will be blessed with this opportunity are excited about seeing this historical event. I wish I could have been one of them to attend as well, but I do not believe I will be able to get close enough to see President Barack Obama and his lovely family. I will just have to see it from my livingroom on the TV screen and cry my tears there. :)

    Be Blessed

    December 4, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
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