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"People blame everyone. There's no more gain in trying to blame the other side."

--Senator John Breaux (D-La.), exasperated as partisan gridlock continues over the federal budgetEDITED BY LARRY LIGHT, WITH OLUWABUNMI SHABIReturn to top

SORRY, WRONG NUMBERS

MISCOMMUNICATION AND finger-pointing on Wall Street have taken Barnes & Noble stock on a wild ride lately. The odd tale starts on Dec. 28, when PaineWebber Group analyst Craig Bibb raised his rating on the book chain to "buy" and the stock shot up 4.9%, from 30 7/8 to 32 3/8. The next day, Bibb abruptly lowered his rating to "neutral." The shares plummeted 10.4%, to 29.

Wall Street analysts say Barnes & Noble CFO Irene Miller told them Bibb upgraded the stock without making the standard call to B&N to check his numbers. PaineWebber people, though, privately dispute Miller, saying Bibb phoned Miller twice between Dec. 13 and Dec. 28--calls that went unreturned, since she was vacationing part of that time. B&N traditionally won't discuss the crucial December sales figures early.

Bibb, in his rosy Dec. 28 report, predicted fourth-quarter sales growth at B&N superstores would be 7% to 9%. After Miller called to question his conclusion, Bibb the next day predicted growth of 3% to 6%, stating that he had just heard more about weak book sales in the Northeast. PaineWebber sources say Bibb first forecast 7% to 9% growth in a Dec. 13 report, faxed to Miller's office; it received no response. Bibb, PaineWebber, and B&N declined to comment publicly.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT, WITH OLUWABUNMI SHABI By Willy SternReturn to top

THE CORNER-OFFICE CANDIDATE

THE CORNER OFFICE THINKS the best Republican for the Oval Office is Bob Dole, by a vast margin. A survey of 401 senior executives drawn from the BUSINESS WEEK 1000 finds that 52% prefer the Senate majority leader as the 1996 GOP nominee. No.2 is publisher Steve Forbes, at a distant 8%. After that, the list trails off: former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander (7%), Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana (6%), Senator Phil Gramm of Texas (5%), and commentator Pat Buchanan at a mere 1%.

Dole's immense lead is even wider than his edge among Republicans generally. A recent Harris poll had the Kansan at 45%, with Gramm next at 9%, Buchanan at 6%, and Forbes at 6%. Harris, by the way, did the BW survey.

Assuming the inevitability of Dole's nomination--as he likes to-- we asked the executives to pick between the senator and President Bill Clinton for the fall contest. No surprise here. The traditionally Republican group goes for Dole by 71%. Clinton scores just 19%. The blowout results change very little even if one of their own, a business type, enters the fray. Then, it's Dole 70%, Clinton 19%, Ross Perot 3%. lEDITED BY LARRY LIGHT, WITH OLUWABUNMI SHABIReturn to top

WHY LOBBYISTS AREN'T SWEATING

SO THIS IS LOBBYING REFORM? A bill to shed light on how Washington really works just became law. It forces thousands of behind-the-scenes influence peddlers--particularly lawyers, who have long claimed they didn't have to register--to tell who their clients are.

In some ways, though, the new law weakens existing restrictions. For instance, reps no longer have to identify the lawmakers they lobby. Also axed: requiring lobbyists for foreign companies to copy the Justice Dept. on letters they send legislators.

Even new gift-giving rules harbor plenty of loopholes. True, Congress in 1995 tightened up internal rules about gifts from Gucci Gulch. The House now bans all freebies except for nominal stuff such as a T-shirt. The Senate limits gifts to $50.

Don't think, though, that all this spells the end of those free three-martini lunches for lawmakers. Lobbyists already are dreaming up dodges. The senator is a golfer? One lawyer suggests there will be games of "loser pays" with lobbyists--who would always lose. Or restaurants could double their prices but offer two-for-one deals to lure lobbyists who would pay for lawmakers.

Penalties also are watered down under the new law. Lobbying violations used to be criminal. Now, miscreants face only civil fines. And the gift curbs will be enforced by the Hill's weak-kneed ethics panels.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT, WITH OLUWABUNMI SHABI By Stan CrockReturn to top


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