December 4th, 2008
12:15 PM ET
9 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. kayla

    Thanks Beverly for answering my question at least somebody pays attention to them

    December 4, 2008 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  2. Sarah

    Wonderful thing you are doing! I had hoped to take my 9 & 11 year old to Washington but financially can't afford it. I thought they would have been thrilled as they were Obama (as was I) supporters! We will watch on the tv. Keep up the good work Mr. Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  3. Zaga

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

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

    December 4, 2008 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  4. Jeff

    I bow to you, sir, for your act of selfless generosity. I only hope to live up to your example,

    December 4, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  5. Tis the Season

    The true meaning of the holiday season. The more you give, the more He gives to you.

    December 4, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  6. Mike - Missouri

    God Bless this man and his family what a great gift to give to the not so Fortunate.

    December 4, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  7. EJ (USA)


    December 4, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  8. wondering

    Wonderful indeed. But I can't help wondering if Mr. Stafford's generous gesture is reserved for the minority/black disadvantaged or does it include poor white Americans in its sweep. Fifty years of minority focused government policy has brought deserved and equitable change for minorities but only if you're a non-white minority. The double standard still exists, only it's reversed. I once saw a (white) man bring his wife into the ER for medical treatment–he said he hadn't worked in a month, that he lived in a tent with his wife in his mother-in-law's back yard, had no money–and even after hearing his plight the (black) hospital worker gazed steadily at the man with an "oh well..." look and said because he HAD been making 2.75 hr he didn't qualify for free help. He'd have to pay. He took his wife and left. I had to wonder then if the ER packed with minority's also had to pay for their treatment. This wasn't a private hospital either; it was Ben Taub Hospital which served the poor and indigent. I lived in the south for over fifty years and watched a slow, painful transformation of attitudes. But it hasn't all been good. Whites will never be called "minority" no matter the disadvantages they face. It's a bit unreal to see a white person struggling to survive, unable to qualify for government benefits because he's not considered a minority and for a minority to all but laugh in his face with a smirk that seems to say "yeah now you know what it feels like". If that's the way a minority really thinks I have to wonder how much has really changed. President-elect Obama and men like Mr. Stafford have an unparalleled opportunity to show us the fight against racism is working by covering ALL American's with the same blanket of hope. If this sort of thing doesn't happen in your neighborhood, your state, a huge high-5 to you.

    December 4, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  9. Anonymous

    Pineapple, in regards to your comment about this being the "spreading the wealth" the GOP is against, you are incorrect. The GOP is against the government taking more of their money and then choosing how their money should be spent. This businessman demonstrates that there are still some wealthy that are willing to give to those who deserve.

    As Ronald Reagan once said, "I believe the best social program is a job." Can't find a job? McDonalds down the street is hiring.

    December 4, 2008 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  10. Chawk

    Who cares what the money could have been spent on. He could have just kept what he had, but he CHOSE to allocate the cash for that particular experience. I say more power to him. Just because he has a lot of money doesn't mean he HAS to put it in the "right" places. I'm glad he did what he's doing.

    December 4, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  11. Cathy

    God has blessed you and you will continue to receive his blessings. You are a true American with the spirit to prove it – and I envy those who have the opportunity to take advantage of your generosity and attend the event(s).

    I agree with a previous poster – the inauguration should be free to all Americans. This is an historical event – a president chosen by the voters of America.

    God Bless America and Mr. Stafford.

    December 4, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  12. JM





    December 4, 2008 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  13. Watermann

    I really do hope that nobody will ask where the "change" is. A great man in a great country.

    December 4, 2008 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  14. meka

    It's people like mr.stafford that we need in this world. You do not have to have a lot of money, just have generosity in your heart and we all can make the united states a lot better place.But people like mr.stafford makes me want to be a better person. Thanks mr. stafford for all that you do .

    December 4, 2008 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  15. pat huntington ny

    I'm sure terminally ill patients and wounded vets would've been better servied if all that money was donated to charities to find cures for the patient's illness and to treat the vets. What a waste! Shows where this guy's priorities are...and I bet, he'll only give the golden ticket to certain "kinds" of people, if you know what I mean....

    December 4, 2008 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  16. Ron

    Outstanding story! It's great to read something good in the news. Wish there were more people like him... such a noble thing to do.

    December 4, 2008 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  17. DX in TX

    To: Judy Simmons, you can't be serious. Does Mr. Stafford sound like the type to base his generosity on race, get real lady! You may find this hard to believe, but not all Africans came to this country on the same boat and we do not share the same beliefs.

    When are people like you going to get it through your thick skulls that we support Barack Obama because of the great things he will do. I believe that he will get the country back on track. I believe he has accomplished something that has been lost in the current administration and that's the ability to speak to the hearts and minds of all people, not a select few, but all Americans.

    Judy, I beg of you, UNLEARN!

    God Bless Mr. Stafford and this great country!

    December 4, 2008 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  18. J.C.

    I am sure the big three's CEOs are richer than Mr. Earl Stafford.
    What have they done?

    December 4, 2008 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  19. Calif. mom

    Awesome! IMO, it's another sign that the country is on its way back from an era of rampant greed and selfishness. I know we Americans are charitable types, but I believe Obama inspires this kind of action, too.

    Now if only all the selfish jerks who are "selling" inauguration tickets (that they don't even have to sell) would just leave the country...

    December 4, 2008 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  20. MV

    Sure the money could have been spent on more "long-lasting" things, but think of how much this will stick out in someone's mind. This will be something they carry with them forever. One special night that they might otherwise never get. I think it's a great idea.

    December 4, 2008 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  21. Cynt

    I agree with the commet below, the inauguration should be free, the hotels should not be allowed to raise their rates to the extremes that they have this is becoming to commerical it's all about making money which it should not be, it's about history and people buying and selling tickets for this is unfortunate, I feel it's gotten way out of hand.

    I voted and support Obama 100% but if this Mr Stafford would not have stepped in these people had no chance at all to attend this. god bless him.

    December 4, 2008 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  22. George

    Don't forget to include all the illegal foreigners who contributed to the campaign, he couldn't have done it without their help.

    December 4, 2008 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  23. tmg

    It is wonderful to note that there are people like you Mr. Earl. It looks like there are other opportunity cost for your money but I believe that EVERYBODY deserves to enjoy LIFE at least once during their lifetime. These people will never have a chance to eat, see, watch, enjoy a "pampering" if not for your gracious money. You are very lucky to have enough money to share.

    More power to you.

    December 4, 2008 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  24. sbkilb Ct

    God bless you! What a wonderful thing to do. It revives my belief in mankind. To freely give people this chance to see history in the making makes me envious. I have been a supporter of OBAMA for a long time and know that he and many,many American people our proud of you!!!!!!

    December 4, 2008 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  25. samantha Rajapakse

    This is just a wonderful country. we are going through the worst of the worst and people are pulling together.

    December 4, 2008 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
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