December 4th, 2008
12:15 PM ET
5 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. Cathy

    This is the best offer anyone can put forward.

    December 4, 2008 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  2. mickey

    How wonderful – put me down for a ticket earl – would love to document it with camera

    December 4, 2008 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  3. 1st LADY

    WE WOULD LIKE TO GO ..MY HUSBAND IS OUR PASTOR AND DOES NOT A ANY MONEY FOR MTHE CHURCH. HE HAS BEEN A TRUE EXAMPLE OF GIVING BACK ..WE HAVE HELPED HUNDREADS OF PEOPLE ..MAY BLESS AMERICA

    December 4, 2008 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  4. J Patrick

    Mr Earl Stafford is obviously a selfless and giving individual, God bless you sir! The world would be a far better place with more of his ilk.

    P.S. Something tells me that Mr. Stafford is also the kind of person needed in many of these huge companies that have lost sight of the grand scheme. Which is without the little guy, there is no big guy and I sincerely doubt that Mr. Stafford would be trying to get an enormous sum of money for a pension, severence or even an annual salary while watching thousands of people lose their jobs with salaries far below his own. This man strikes me as the kind to tighten his belt first before forcing those with less to do the same.

    December 4, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  5. Los

    This guy's sharing? He must be a socialist!

    December 4, 2008 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  6. ELF in SC

    Great point Judy!

    December 4, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  7. chelle

    What an incredible thing to do!!!

    December 4, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  8. Kathy, Rockville, Md.

    What a fantastic thing to do.

    It proves it only takes one person to make a difference in someone's life.

    Very nice, indeed.

    December 4, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  9. MyrS

    What a great, heartwarming story.

    December 4, 2008 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  10. al in memphis

    Inspiration is the gift that keeps on giving

    Lots of American were inspired by the content of what Obama said during his run for the president. Our leaders should inspire us to do better even though we may not agree on every issues. We can still live peacably.

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

    does this make him a socialist?

    December 4, 2008 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  12. Chuck

    Mr. Earl Stafford from Virginia, you are the greatest!

    December 4, 2008 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  13. Virginia

    OK–here's a negative. Would he be doing this if Obama had not been elected? Somehow I doubt it.

    December 4, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  14. kyle

    Great Thing you are doing for people Mr. stafford. I would love to be included.

    December 4, 2008 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  15. Ya_Ya

    "Judy Simmons', sorry, but not even YOU can rain on this parade.

    December 4, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  16. J Patrick

    Mr. Stafford... i think you should see about getting into the coming administration in some form.

    December 4, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  17. imobro

    When I read this article I got a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. This is truly a man of GOD. He has studied the Bible and follows the teachings of OUR HEAVENLY FATHER. When I think of the many wealthy people (there are no absolutes) who call themselves christians who don't want to pay taxes, or pay a decent wage, only care about money it makes me wonder if they ever read Matt:24-25. If we begin to love thy neighbor as thyself we as a nation will survive, together we can make it.
    MAY GOD BLESS OUR LEADERS AND PROVIDE THEM WITH THE
    WISDOM, KNOWLEDGE, AND PATIENCE TO MAKE OUR WORLD A BETTER PLACE. PEACE, LOVE,HARMONY, AND PROSPERITY FOR ALL MANKIND.

    December 4, 2008 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  18. North Carolina

    This is a true example of human kindness. Now that the election is over we all need to come together as a country and get past our differences.

    December 4, 2008 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  19. liz

    angels do exist

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

    nobody has asked how many people could have been fed or kept warm with a million dollars? or how many could be kept alive that are starving?

    December 4, 2008 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  21. Toronto Obama Geek

    Wow...Americans comment without using a single slimy word...would be great to see more of this.

    Would be great for Americans to know that this is a time to unite whether you are green, yellow, blue, black or white; whether you are Republican, Democrat, Independent, Catholic, Baptist, or Pagan.

    Give Unity a chance and see what the universe has in store for you all!

    GOD BLESS YOU MR. EARL!!!!

    December 4, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  22. Lillie

    Mr. Stafford is truly an American HERO! A religious person leading the way by example!!!! Are there anymore out there? Please standup today and act.......

    December 4, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  23. Mikki, Washington, DC

    Wow!! God bless Mr. Stafford. His generosity is awesome.

    December 4, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  24. Sheila43302

    To blogger Judy Simmons

    Why on earth did you have to inject the spectre of racism into this discussion?!

    December 4, 2008 11:23 am at 11:23 am |
  25. Tulsa

    Well done sir.
    I echo the sentiments of several others here by saying this is the change this country has needed for so long. Don't just talk about values and generosity. Live it.
    If we all did just a fraction of what Mr. Stafford has done, there would be no need to have social programs funded by taxes.
    Thanks for leading by example.

    December 4, 2008 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
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