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. Barb

    What a blessing to see one of the "haves" demonstrate such generosity and kindness to a few "have nots"! People like this make the world a better place.

    December 4, 2008 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  2. Beverly, NYC

    Mr. Stafford thanks for sharing your blessings with the less fortunate. As a former Marine who will be watching from home with friends I would like to contribute. Please CNN post a link if one is available.

    December 4, 2008 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  3. Eunice

    Mr. Earl Stafford is a great human being.

    December 4, 2008 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  4. Pineapple

    Very nice, a positive example of "spreading the wealth", the GOP was against.

    December 4, 2008 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  5. ldjonsey

    What a wonderful thing to read about! This is news we can use: how people who can, do. We all can do something of value for others. It's enriching to read such examples.

    December 4, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  6. Matt

    thank you for leading by example

    December 4, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  7. Mr. President

    Amazing. Love it! If only others who are so well off could be so generous. God will bless Mr. Stafford ten-fold!

    December 4, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  8. Pat

    How wonderful and how excited the recipients will be. May God continue to bless you for your thoughtfulness.

    December 4, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  9. Lauren the Designer

    Wonderful! What an incredible display of generosity. I wish there were more people in this world like this man.

    December 4, 2008 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  10. Ken in Dallas

    I don't see a single post on this topic asking "where's the change?"

    This is the change. This is America beginning to live up to our heritage of humanity, generosity, opportunity, and hope. These are the seeds of the greatness that we can become again.

    Here is change we can believe in.

    December 4, 2008 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  11. Jazz

    God will truly bless you for being so caring for others. I hope you can and will receive every blessing that you are pouring out to those in need. God is walking and beside you every day Earl. You are a true angel from heaven. God Bless this caring man.

    December 4, 2008 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  12. Jackie

    That's so cool! God bless him!

    December 4, 2008 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  13. Michael

    One word...Awesome!

    December 4, 2008 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  14. Scott Ames

    What a great idea! Mr Stafford, you are brilliant and generous. This is something those that will attend will never forget. It will be the center point of hope in their lives. It sends a message that anything is possbile. Hats off to you Mr. Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  15. Jenn

    What a beautiful gesture. This will truly be a great moment in history, and it is very generous to give people that otherwise wouldn't be able to attend this opportunity. This embodies the American spirit. Hopefully people will "pay it forward" and do whatever they can-large or small-to keep this gesture moving!

    December 4, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  16. Mari

    WOW....... some GOOD NEWS for once! That's SO great!

    GOD BLESS YOU, MR. STAFFORD!

    December 4, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  17. swannee

    I feel the spirit of a happier, more generous country happening. Thank you Mr. Stafford for being such a fine example of a wonderful person, willing to share your good fortune with the less fortunate. You embody the loving spirit we all wish to emulate.
    Have a good time at the festivities Mr. Stafford, celebrating such an exciting and positive change for our country!

    December 4, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  18. Cindy

    What an inspiring American and true exemplar of greatness!

    December 4, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  19. Sheryl

    God bless!!!! Thank you for your kindness!!!

    December 4, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  20. Beverly Davis

    What wonderful news for this time of year. A great man who will reap a great reward.

    December 4, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  21. Tony Howard

    MAY THE ETERNAL AND ALMIGHTY GOD WHO UPHOLDS AND CONTINUES TO BLESS OUR GREAT NATION BRING TO PROSPERITY AND REALITY MORE AMERICANS OF LIKE MIND AND SPIRIT AS MR. EARL STAFFORD.
    ITNOJCIP
    Amen

    December 4, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  22. Anonymous

    Three cheers for Mr. Stagfford–this is the people's election.

    December 4, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  23. P Do

    I worked for UNITECH awhile ago and Earl was a wonderful man. I cared for each employee and now knowing he also cares for the needy people.

    What a wonderful world! May God bless him & his family.

    December 4, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  24. JCM

    Thank you Mr. Stafford. What you are doing is the reason I served in our military. Because that would only happen here. And without this great country, people like you would not exist.

    Thank you for doing something that we all should be doing. Thank you for spreading the American dream. Thank you for saluting the volunteer veterans of our military in a way that does not patronize them in exchange for self gain (as many politicians have done recently.) And thank you for recognizing the wounded and their irrecoverable donation to the ideals of freedom world wide.

    And so thank you for not only being yourself, but for perpetuating the cycle of the American Dream. Perhaps some day I too will have the resources to give back to those who now protect me and to those for whom the dream has not yet come.

    December 4, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  25. P Do

    He cares

    December 4, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
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