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. Gary

    Truly a generous spirit for others to follow. I'm a full-blood Kiowa Native American who has been trying to receive disability for three years and would love to be considered for a spot to watch a historical event. How do I apply?

    December 4, 2008 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  2. Dotfar

    Mr. Stafford is definitely the epitomy of what a Christian should be about. Showing the love of God by sharing the wealth that God has blessed him to have. This is so awesome!! To God be the glory and may God continue to bless you, Mr. Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  3. Rosmarie Gordon

    Mr. Stafford your gesture takes me back over 40 years ago when I first came to this county. At that time, people all over the world looked to US not just for its innovation and can-do spirit, but for the way its citizens readily and willingly lend a helping hand to neighbors and strangers alike. May the good you do make your journey in life even better!

    December 4, 2008 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  4. Minnesotan

    Another wealthy and generous person who's NOT a Republican. I hope this is the beginning of a trend!

    December 4, 2008 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  5. Danny G. Boca Raton, FL

    we are our brothers and our sisters keepers, we are a great country with truly great people. let this example show us the way to help more in our own communities. the economy may be bad and things may get worse in the short term, but that is no excuse not to help our fellow men. May you all have a merry christmas and may we all try to provide a little cheer for someone less fortunate.

    December 4, 2008 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  6. Keisha Murphy

    Mr. Stafford this such an amazing gesture that you have done. God has really blessed you and placed you in a position were you are able to bless others. It is great that you are doing so cause so many others that are able to bless people don't usually do. I know that the people that you select to take part in this historical event lives will be forever changed. I will be there but unless I get a ticket from our local congressmen I will just be in the number of people that just want to be in the number and for me that will be enough. I will see the Obama's during the parade I hope. I'm so excited and proud to be apart of history. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

    December 4, 2008 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  7. GE

    He's no solcialist, he's looking to make a profit. Look at all the blessings he's getting for "THE ETERNAL AND ALMIGHTY GOD WHO UPHOLDS AND CONTINUES TO BLESS OUR GREAT NATION" to bring him prosperity. This guy is a capitalist all the way!

    December 4, 2008 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  8. Liz

    God Bless Mr. Stafford. May you generiosity be cotagious.

    December 4, 2008 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  9. dee

    May God continue to richly bless you Mr. Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  10. Farrell, Houston, Tx


    December 4, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  11. Empty suit, empty promises

    Nice gesture indeed.

    Why are we not hearing that DC is going to keep the bars open till 05:00 am for THREE days while the chosen one is coronated into his rightful throne?

    Don't they know the Kennedy's are going to be there and they and alcohol don't exactly "get along".

    Seriously, what kind of a message does that send, you peasants have to close down at 02:00 am, but the media annointed one is having a party, so pen up the spickets for three days and let's get lit everyone.

    What kind of message is that sending?

    Think about it.

    December 4, 2008 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  12. SNB

    Very nice thing to do...we should all pay this kindness forward however we can

    December 4, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  13. Bev

    Play it forward.

    December 4, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  14. mayah

    That is a WONDERFUL thing, GOD bless us ALL

    December 4, 2008 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  15. RealityKing

    I see a lot more need out here than seeing Obama. Unless of course..., the touching of his gown heals??

    December 4, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  16. pam Eugene OR

    That is the change we hoped for! What a blessing this man is. Barack Hussien Obama inspires the best in the American people.
    And to the person who said they hope he does not consider race in his decision as to who he takes. So what if he does or doesn't?
    It is not always about black and white. It is about people. And to all of you haters spewing nonsense this morning about Oprah, she helps blacks and whites alike. So get over it!

    December 4, 2008 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  17. me from Delaware

    I am truly amazed at the greatness people are able to exhibit despite the bitter taste of our current situation. Its a bittersweet era we are experiencing here and I am glad to call myself American.

    December 4, 2008 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  18. Karmen

    I applaud Mr. Stafford's efforts. I personally am not an Obama supporter, but recognize the historical significance of this day, and am proud that I am from a country that has moved past the color of a person's skin. To the person that posted regarding change, I would submit to you that this country has always been a great and gracious country. This change is not change created by President Elect Obama, but rather a much larger recognition of extending beyond racial barriers. I would also point out that we are in a recession, and that in the past, regardless of the president, Americans as a whole have always stepped up to the plate to raise our country. Remember Victory Gardens and Rosie the Riveter. So, while this is an incredible story, and it is touching to see the kindness of the human heart, let's remember that this is a person in America working to make a change, not President Elect Obama.

    December 4, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  19. Regina Ladd

    God bless....You never know who you are walking along beside of. We must be careful how we treat others because God did say he would be coming back. Look at the changes around us. Thank you Mr. Stafford your blessing is on the way. Remember people that Mr. Stafford's actions lives in each and every one of us. God bless....

    December 4, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  20. Pajamadoll

    This is truely what 'CHANGE' is all about. It's great to know someone out there understands the importance of the event and you only get one chance to experience HISTORY in the making! It's actions such as this, which make me proud to be an AMERICAN!

    December 4, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  21. Anonomyous

    Thats a nice gesture but always the cynic...all that money could have been spent on something more longlasting than 1 day of luxury like food for a month...and you can still watch the inaguration on TV

    December 4, 2008 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  22. cruzmaven

    I was truly moved by this selfless gesture to those less fortunate .
    Mr Stafford certainly exemplifies how to pay it back.
    May God continue to bless you.

    December 4, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  23. Fabian Blache, Baton Rouge, LA

    A gentleman and a patriot.

    December 4, 2008 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  24. PK- Dallas, TX

    Just pure love for mankind!! God bless this great nation of those who share to care for others less fortunate.
    KUDOS – Mr. Stafford .

    December 4, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  25. white female

    This is awsome !!!!!! May God bless you Mr. Stafford, and May God watch over us and the Obama's as we move forward into a new timenof CHANGE.
    This is what God wants to see of his Children.
    "A man may study because his brain is hungry for knowledge, even Bible knowledge, but he prays because his soul is Hungry for GOD."
    OBAMA./BIDEN What a team we have America 08-20016

    December 4, 2008 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
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