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. April

    May God Bless Him and Bless us with more people like him

    December 4, 2008 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  2. PASQUALE

    ARE YOU LISTENING BILL GATES, OPRAH, WARREN BUFFET, OIL COMPANIES AND OTHER FILTHY RICH. GIVE SOMETHING BACK, ESPECIALLY TO THOSE THAT HAVE NONE AND TO THOSE THAT HAVE MADE SACRIFICES FOR THE COUNTRY.

    December 4, 2008 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  3. bibi

    Mr.Stafford,you have a great heart and may God bless you. Some people get a lot of happiness not just by all the money they have got but by helping others. I know this very well because my husband is also such a man. He is now retired and on a small salary but sometimes will give away the last penny in his pocket if it means helping someone out. There should be more people like you in this world. The time of me, me, me should stop.

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

    It is better to give than to received! Mr. Stafford may God continue to bless you for your act of kindness you have display.

    December 4, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  5. Samilton

    The CHANGE has begun!

    December 4, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  6. Michael

    3 words – Only in America!

    December 4, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  7. michael martin

    Wonderful. I have heard reports of skyrocketing costs that make attending simply impossible for many. I have been appalled by the greed and selfishness. This is so refreshing.

    December 4, 2008 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  8. Olga

    Thank you for reporting this story. This is a great and uplifting story in a gloomy time.
    God Bless this man.

    December 4, 2008 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  9. s

    Neat!

    I like this! :)

    December 4, 2008 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  10. Celese Bartlett

    My family and I would love to be part of the history making of Obama's Inauguration on January 20, 2009. Unfortunately, we are unable to attend. I want everyone to enjoy themselves and be safe.
    :) The Bartlett family :)

    December 4, 2008 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  11. Faith Restored

    Pay it forward sows the seeds of a better life for us all.

    December 4, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  12. FreeNLovIt

    Finally someone who understands what it means to be a Christian. It'd be nice if he donates to Access Healthcare... healthcar for the poor..

    December 4, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  13. miss b

    where do we apply?

    December 4, 2008 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  14. Chris

    Wonderful charity!

    I wonder if the GOP will call him a "socialist"?

    December 4, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  15. mag

    Hey – Send me. I'll go.

    December 4, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  16. Jean-Claude

    Man´s goodness to mankind !!

    Acts like this would certainly encourage other good people to do similar things, and one day, we will all be living in a better world.
    Blessings to you Mr Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  17. jackmanii

    What a wonderful idea! Thank you Mr. Stafford. I hope Mr. Stafford will inspire others to find ways to help the many millions of people who will be coming to the inauguration without much money or a place to stay. During the campaign, many people opened their houses to people who were volunteering for Obama. Maybe there is a way to continue that tradition and include the many people who have come to the inauguration. Hopefully people from Maryland, Virginia, and Washington. D.C. will organize themselves to help with the tremendous influx of people on January 20, 2009

    December 4, 2008 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  18. J.S.Sampson Jr.

    It reaffirms my faith in the goodness of people. He truly is a man of God because the bible says "To whom much is given, much is expected". Mr. Stafford, I sulute you!

    December 4, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  19. Franky

    Dude, just watch it free on T.V for crying out loud...

    Even Herbert Hoover wouldv'e liked that...you know, to come and think about it, maybe not, LOL!!

    December 4, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  20. Paige

    Thanks for making this possible Martin Luther King Jr. and all the other great black Americans.

    December 4, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  21. Anonymous

    I think that it is wonderful what Mr. Stafford is doing. He has the right idea. I am a physically disabled senior and I am lucky if I get out of the house twice a year to go to the doctor because I have no transportation.

    December 4, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  22. the kid

    never pay to see anyone get sworn in as president. you get what you voted for and there is much more to come. then we will see if this is the guy you though was the Messia of the USA... I don,t think he is!!!!!

    December 4, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  23. liz

    I was in line the other day at McDonald's and the person in front of me paid for my order! I had never met her and do not know if I will ever see her again but I was extremely touched by her kindness. I decided to "pay it forward" and did the same for someone at a different store a few days later. What I came to realize was although I was moved by someone paying for me, it felt even better to help another person. Congratulations to Mr. Stafford and all of God's angels here on earth!

    December 4, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  24. kayla

    Where's the change?

    December 4, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  25. Cathy-SoCal

    Restores your faith in mankind doesn't it? What a lovely gesture Mr. Stafford - it's good to see someone who hasn't forgotten where he came from.

    December 4, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
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