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. Jeff

    Mr. Stafford truly embodies the American spirit!

    December 4, 2008 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  2. rockslide

    I did not vote for Obama but this is awesome. Mr. Stafford is a patriotic great American and I applaud him for his efforts!

    December 4, 2008 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  3. Rebekah A.

    This is a great story...very heart-warming.

    December 4, 2008 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  4. LTJ

    Thank you sir for being an awesome human being!

    December 4, 2008 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  5. Jenny Thornhill

    It is heart warming to know that people like Earl Stafford still exist today. I know that there are many philantropists out there who do so much good work. But to actually include the disadvantaged and the marginalized in such a historic event that many people will "die for" is truly amazing.
    Cheers and God bless Earl Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  6. Sandra Brown

    What a wonderful thing to do. I tried to get a room so that my boys and I could witness this momentus occasion, but sadly my wallet could not accomodate the travel costs. Thank You Mr. Stafford for making so many people happy.

    December 4, 2008 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  7. Gigi White

    Dear Mr. Stafford:

    You Sir, are a true American in every sense of the word!!

    God speed!

    December 4, 2008 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  8. T. Groomes

    Well...Barack seems to bring out the best in all of us. I don't know if everyone out there feels like I do..but I feel like something special is happening in this country; in spite of the bleak problems we are currently facing. It seems like America is being given another chance to get it right. I hope we search deeply inside ourselves to seek opportunities, just like Earl Stafford did, to give to and uplift one another. The age of Obama may make us look inside to seek our better selves. That just might be Barack Obama's greatest gift to us.

    December 4, 2008 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  9. MB - Pennsylvania

    This man is exactly right, God Bless him for what he's doing. Hopefully, the President Elect will be told of this event and make an appearance there after the Inaguration.

    December 4, 2008 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  10. Lynne

    What a great guy to do this for people. We should all be so generous.

    December 4, 2008 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  11. Dodds

    I don't even know what to say......this is an extrmely nice gesture. What a blessing this is to those who cannot afford to go. God bless you Earl Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  12. Jackofall68

    What a wonderful story to re-kindle the American spirit. As we continue through this purging period I am beginning to see the need for the economic turmoil- to cause us to rethink our true purpose in life. When we are all struggling together it brings out the core values that make us humans. I believe we will regain the spirit of life and prosperity by treating our neighbors as ourselves and truly caring one for the other. This great nation will be re-built one good deed at a time.

    December 4, 2008 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  13. no bailouts

    if only there were more people like you mr. stafford. bless you.

    December 4, 2008 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  14. Anonymous

    Where can I sign up?

    December 4, 2008 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  15. Gisele from NY

    Earl Stafford is showing amazing generosity at a time when it is really needed. This is a sharp contrast to those websites trying to "sell" tickets for skyrocketed prices. Glod bless him.

    December 4, 2008 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  16. Bowman Gray, NC

    This gentleman has just won the "Truly Decent Human Being" award for 2008. While so many are looking to cash in on this event, he is looking to share it. That is change we can see!

    December 4, 2008 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  17. Charles Douglas Lemay

    No, God has ALREADY blessed this man.

    It's obvious by the things he does for others.

    Would that we were all so blessed...

    December 4, 2008 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  18. Evie ~ from TS ~

    So most very excellent 🙂 Change is really happening ... it's NOT just our administration ... it is us ... YAY!!! US!

    All of us ~ around the world ... change your attitude to one of gratitude and the miracles are like fairy dust on store shelves brought to life 🙂

    And waxing poetic is just the start ... LOL!!!

    December 4, 2008 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  19. Phil in KC

    That is a very generous and touching gesture. Good for him! We need more people like him in this country.

    December 4, 2008 10:51 am at 10:51 am |

    the inauguration should be free – let every hotels and sleeping spaces be offered for free in the true spirit of the american dream and with the realities of our hard economic times!

    December 4, 2008 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  21. Jen

    How do you find out if your eligiable for the free events??

    December 4, 2008 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  22. Tyra B. Thompson

    This is a great gesture from a true American hero!!!!!!!!

    December 4, 2008 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  23. Just the beginning

    This is excellent! I hope the people who are trying to make money off of the free tickets for this event read this and look inside their hearts at what they are doing. Everything in this world doesnt have to be about making should be about GIVING. Thank you Mr. Stafford for reminding me that it is better to give than to receive.

    December 4, 2008 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  24. sue

    What an amazing man Mr Stafford is. Everyone needs to follow his example and help the not so fortunate in our country.

    December 4, 2008 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  25. Lou R

    The Obama win, I believe, will continue to bring forth the goodness of the American people in creative and positive ways. Now, if only the Republicans will lift themselves from the political gutter they have chosen to dwell in and begin to express their goodness, the United States will regain its stature at a nation of respect, hope and achievement.

    December 4, 2008 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
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