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"People still need to hear your message that all are God's children; all have fallen short of His glory." -- President Clinton to Pope John Paul II in St. LouisEDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

Cable Shows Them the Money

THE 1998 CONGRESSIONAL RACES DREW LAVISH CONTRIBUTIONS from cable-TV operators, which, at first glance, seems odd for an off-year election. But with federal regulation of cable rates set to expire on Mar. 31, cable is doling out cash so politicos don't change their minds. The industry also wants Congress to keep direct-broadcast satellite companies from carrying local stations, an advantage for cable.

Contributions to candidates and their parties total $3.7 million, though donations are still being counted. That's 25% more than the 1994 midterm campaign, says the Center for Responsive Politics. And the combined $1.5 million in donations from cable giants Time Warner and Tele-Communications were double 1994's contributions.

The major parties split cable's largesse about evenly. The winner by far: Senator Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee, who got $137,260 from cable interests. His Republican counterpart, Arizona Senator John McCain, got $69,999. The top House recipients were John Dingell (D-Mich.), Martin Frost (D-Tex.), and Howard Coble (R-N.C.), who got a total of $65,672.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

Merrill: A Bull in the Online Shop?

THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM is that Merrill Lynch isn't interested in online brokering. After all, John Steffens, the Merrill vice-chairman who runs its 15,000-broker network, has voiced concerns that Internet investing can be risky for average investors. But Merrill must be unnerved by the success of rival Charles Schwab's online services, which pushed Schwab's market capitalization ahead of its own last year. Schwab's market cap is now $27.4 billion, vs. Merrill's $25.6 billion. So Merrill may be changing its view.

The evidence: Steffens spent a week in late January in Silicon Valley. He and a team of Merrill staffers were given a grand tour by Vernan Keenan, a San Francisco-based technology consultant. Keenan declined to comment on the tour, but sources familiar with the trip say Steffens met with top Silicon Valley chief executives and venture capitalists. That has given rise to speculation in financial circles that Merrill wants to become a player in the booming Internet financial-services arena. Says one banker: "He's definitely moved his center of gravity to recognize this is more real than he previously acknowledged." Merrill declined to comment.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

Quid Pro Quo? Nah, Couldn't Be

COINCIDENCE OR NOT? After dropping out of the group of states supporting the feds' antitrust suit against Microsoft on Dec. 7, South Carolina is dangling a package of tax breaks to lure a Microsoft facility away from Charlotte, N.C.

South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon's surprise withdrawal from the 20-state coalition was a public relations coup for Bill Gates & Co. Condon cited the proposed America Online-Netscape deal as proof of high-tech competition.

Competition is evidently afoot for new business in the Carolinas, too. According to a Jan. 22 article in The Business Journal of Charlotte, Microsoft has widened its search for a site to house the 900 employees now at its technical-support center in Charlotte to include neighboring York County, S.C. Robb McBurney, a Condon aide, says "we have nothing to do" with the recruitment of Microsoft. Meanwhile, the company says South Carolina first proposed relocating the Charlotte center to York County, though Microsoft, too, dismisses any connection between the dropped lawsuit and its search for new venues. O.K. Sorry to be so suspicious.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

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