Donald Trump, Anthony Pratt and Scott Morrison in Wapakoneta, Ohio, in 2019. (Image: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Australian billionaire Anthony Pratt is being held up as one of the most gratuitous examples of someone paying their way into the Trump administration. 

So much so that he’s made it to paragraph four of a blistering New York Times expose about favour-seeking and influence-peddling under Trump.

The Australian “cardboard king” is one of the key players in the Times’ story about Trump’s new “swamp” — a network of influence-makers who have paid for access to the US president while getting favours in return. 

What does the story claim, and what does it say about the Australian media’s own cosy relationship with the billionaire? 

Mar-a-Lago pals 

Pratt’s support of the US president has long been on display. Despite earlier supporting the Clinton campaign, he quickly got behind Trump’s jobs creation plan, even backing his presidential run with a $100,000 bet.

But the NYT story suggests Pratt’s love affair with the new president had financial strings attached. 

Shortly after becoming a paid-up member of Mar-a-Lago — Trump’s Palm Beach retreat as well as a club that charges lucrative membership fees — Pratt announced plans to invest $2 billion in manufacturing jobs in the Midwest. He took out ads in The Wall Street Journal commending the president and appeared on Fox news channels endorsing Trump’s economic policies. 

His public support for the president, and his membership to Mar-a-Lago, bought him privileged access to the president, the NYT claims, including an invitation to a state dinner with Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the White House last year. It also began a relationship built on favours, with Trump appearing at the grand opening of Pratt’s new cardboard plant in Ohio just days after the state dinner. 

The NYT also claims that Pratt ingratiated himself with Sonny Perdue, Trump’s agriculture secretary, in order to push for expanded food production and exports. After holidaying in Mar-a-Lago in 2017, the paper claims Pratt emailed Perdue a video of Trump extolling Pratt at a New Year’s Eve party. At Mar-a-Lago the next day, Pratt convened a round table that he characterised on Twitter as part of the Global Food Forum, an annual Wall Street Journal conference that he co-sponsored. 

Business royalty

The Pratt name is synonymous with business royalty in Australia. Pratt’s success in building up his father Richard’s recycling business into a global empire has won him favourable treatment in the Australian media, where he is a mainstay on the AFR’s annual Rich List. 

But the Times story describes a billionaire who is unafraid to buy the influence of the most powerful man in the world. His strong financial endorsement of Trump also signifies a straying  from his self-image as the centre-left philanthropist who supports action on climate change. 

It also lifts the veil on Pratt’s cosy relationship with some of Australia’s top financial journalists. The story refers to a dinner between Pratt and “a reporter from The Australian Financial Review“. AFR columnist Joe Aston described a similar evening in Mar-a-Lago with Pratt in April last year, when Trump came over to their table.

“This guy made me $2 billion” Trump reportedly said about Pratt. Pratt responded: “Mr President, this is Joe Aston — Australia’s best journalist, and a big fan.”