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. Rob

    Beautiful. Just beautiful. Mr. Stafford, you are a very good man, indeed.

    December 4, 2008 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  2. Touched

    Wow. Very inspirational. If I end up seeing negative comments on this post then I have lost all faith in the American person, for this is true generosity. How cannot this man be regarded with utmost respect and dignity as he sets a moral example that should be studied by all Americans, me being the first one.

    December 4, 2008 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  3. kayla

    who is Mr.Stafford?

    December 4, 2008 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  4. Nat

    Well done Mr. Stafford! You are a wonderful person!

    December 4, 2008 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  5. Laura, Boston

    Isn't it nice to hear of someone thinking of others instead of themselves.

    All we have heard about recently is Wall Street folks, insurance giants and automakers looking out for #1....themselves.

    I hope each and every person Mr. Stafford has picked to go has the best time of their lives. It is not every day one gets to be so close to witness such a historic event.

    What a wonderful man Mr. Stafford is!

    December 4, 2008 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  6. kayla

    Is Mr.Stafford a vice President?

    December 4, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  7. Jenni

    God Bless your efforts Mr. Stafford. That is certainly a worthy and purposeful gesture. I will be watching everything from home, but those who have been given this amazing gift. I don't believe this has ever happen before for an inauguration! The Obama's are definitely bringing out the best of most of world!! God Bless America!!!

    December 4, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  8. Bruce

    This should be a sign to us all that we need to put aside the partisanship and work together as Americans to help and support each other.
    This is a great man who would do something like this.

    December 4, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  9. Mommaluv

    God bless you Mr Stafford, you are an example for all the world to see. Hopefully Mr Stafford's generosity and thoughtfulness will spread and the future will truely be filled with change.

    December 4, 2008 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  10. Katy

    This was a wonderful thing to do and it's great to know that there is someone who understands the American Way! May God Bless You!

    December 4, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  11. Amy

    Well done, Mr. Stafford. Why aren't there more people out there like you?

    December 4, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  12. Aleasha L. - Baltimore


    December 4, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  13. Zaga, TX

    SEE folks, spreading the wealth is not a bad/socialist thing, if's a GOD thing.

    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.”

    Thank you for sharing your wealth Mr. Stafford, thank you. God bless you.....

    December 4, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  14. indy 08

    God bless you, you are what makes America the greatest nation on earth. Thank you for you service.

    December 4, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  15. Amy

    What uplifting news exactly when we need it!

    December 4, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  16. A Canuck

    Now ...this is what life is supposed to be about. Bless him.

    December 4, 2008 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  17. carol

    What a wonderful gesture....that's the true spirit of Christmas.

    December 4, 2008 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  18. Almost the end of THE error!

    Wow, how can I get on his list :0)

    December 4, 2008 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  19. Jessica

    This is the type business person I want to support. Please tell us the name of the business. As a business owner I seek out the business's that take care of their employee's first and support those less fortunate when I am determining who gets my business.

    This really goes to the core of the President Elect Obama's belief. We are all in this together and need to work together to make this a better world.

    I try to make every purchase count by supporting those that want to make this world a better place.

    December 4, 2008 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  20. Judy Simmons`

    I just hope he does not take race into consideration when chosing who might be the lucky ones to attend, what will be one of the greatest historic events in my lifetime.

    December 4, 2008 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  21. Wisconsin Vet

    Look more into the actions of these men and see these are the true reflections of leadership, kindness & humanity.

    Examples we need now in America And in the World

    December 4, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  22. Alice

    What a wonderful,unselfish and loving act from a real gentleman.What a difference between this kind of man and the men that flew into Washington on their corporate jets asking to be bailed out! Mr. Stafford is an example of what a truly decent human being should be.

    December 4, 2008 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  23. Holly in Albquerque

    What fun!

    December 4, 2008 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  24. Ray Fisher

    The Inaugeration is little taters, I'm waiting for the reaffirmation of his campaign promises signaling our recovery. We must face facts that this is not a normal inaugeration nor normal times. They'll be time enough for partying after the job is done.

    December 4, 2008 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  25. Sly in Seattle

    I hate that the article had to mention he was a "black" businessman...

    why couldn't he just be a businessman? is it supposed to mean more since he's black?

    this kind of reporting irkes me cause if he were white I dont think it would have said, "a white businessman".

    anyway.. good deed, Mr. Stafford. very nicely done!

    December 4, 2008 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
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