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US Businessman Invites Disadvantaged to Inauguration

A U.S. businessman is spending $1 million to give hundreds of underprivileged Americans and others one of the best views in Washington of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration celebration on January 20.

Earl Stafford booked 300 rooms at the J.W. Marriott Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue as part of a special package that also includes $200,000 worth of food and private access to a hotel balcony overlooking the inaugural parade route.

Stafford plans to invite disadvantaged people, wounded soldiers, terminally ill patients and others to the event, which he is calling the "People's Inaugural Project."

The gift is being funded through the Virginia business owner's faith-based Stafford Foundation, which he founded in 2002 to help poor Americans.

The foundation will also cover guests' transportation and provide tuxedos, gowns and stylists to prepare them for two balls it will hold on January 20, the "People's Inaugural Ball" and a youth ball for 300 guests under 18. The balls will cost an additional $600,000, which Stafford hopes to raise through donors.

At least a third of Stafford's guests will be from marginalized groups. They will be chosen by non-profits and social service groups. The rest will be volunteers and people from foundations and charitable organizations.

The 60-year-old Stafford said his Christian faith inspired him to take on the project. He said he wanted to give the opportunity to those who otherwise would not be able to attend an inaugural ball.

Other events will include a prayer breakfast and a luncheon on January 19 in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day, a federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader.

Stafford, an Air Force retiree, made millions on a defense technology firm he founded in Centreville, Virginia.