Joe Pew was more direct: "Price-fixing is an evil, wicked thing."
In 1936, J. Howard warned a Bellevue-Stratford business audience that America needed election "surgery" - or Roosevelt would impose a "planned economy," killing "constitutional democracy" and "personal liberty."
After federal marshals searched J. Howard's office for illegal campaign cash, Joe was the family's political face. He "went into politics as he might have gone into a new line of business, by investing a large sum of money, and buying up a going concern," wrote leftist columnist I.F. Stone. Pew led fund-raising for Alf Landon, who was trounced by Roosevelt.
"I haven't any idea how much I've given. I give everything I can afford," Joe Pew told the pro-New Deal Philadelphia Record.
Pew financed the GOP campaign to retake Pennsylvania, then pitched his handpicked governor, Arthur James, for president in 1940. The New York Post called "Boss Pew" the leader of conservatives "who distrust" such moderates as Wendell Willkie.
Time magazine estimated that Pew had given Republicans $2 million since 1934, making Pew the biggest campaign contributor in U.S. history.
But instead of backing James or another conservative, Pittsburgh delegates voted for Willkie, humiliating Pew. "I do not like Joe Pew's brand of politics," winner Willkie gloated.
They made up; they needed each other. Pew called on Americans "to save their country from the fate of the dictator countries of Europe" by rejecting Roosevelt. When Willkie lost, Pew re-upped as the party's "chief financial mainstay" and would-be kingmaker, wrote columnist Drew Pearson.
While the Germans overran Europe, Pew said America should "mind our own business." After Pearl Harbor, Pew rallied to the war, building the largest share of U.S. oil tankers. But he bitterly attacked wartime price and production controls.
In 1944, the New York Times called Pew a leader of the "little-known, power-hungry men whose steady stream of money dominates the Republican Party." But veteran Baltimore Sun editor John W. Owens wrote that it was "phantasmagorical" to think that Pew could sway the public "on no more foundation than generous campaign contributions." He said Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, accused of "ingratitude" by millionaire contributors, "thumped them on the head and returned to important matters."
Maybe that message got through. Thomas E. Dewey, not so conservative, got Pew's nod and the party's, "not because Pew likes him," but because "he has the best chance of beating Roosevelt," wrote the Record. Dewey lost.
J. Howard Pew stepped down as Sun Oil chief executive in 1947; he put Robert G. Dunlop, who shared Pew views, in charge. Dunlop and his successors applied the brothers' political conservatism to business - and steadily dismantled the empire the Pews had put together, ending with the remnant's recent sale to a Texas pipeline.
Their political legacy? Pew protégé Hugh Scott won election as a U.S. senator; the GOP finally won the White House in 1952 with Dwight Eisenhower, fingered by Joe Pew for the job. Eisenhower delivered the interstate highway system Pew backed, breaking the railroads and boosting demand for gas.
But mostly, Eisenhower was the kind of moderate the Pews had resisted during the Depression. So was Sen. Scott, who backed the EPA and the AFL-CIO.
So moderation proved the key to victory. The Pews' clear principles didn't save their business legacy, and there were limits to what money could buy in U.S. elections. Back then, at least.
Contact Joseph N. DiStefano
at 215-854-5194, JoeD@phillynews.com or @PhillyJoeD on Twitter.