Feel free to call opponents of City Commissioner Erik Sten's council-approved campaign finance plan "disgruntled monopolists."

To be accurate, only three of the four companies—Qwest, Portland General Electric and City Center Parking—who have endorsed the anti-Sten First Things First Committee enjoy government-granted monopolies over Portlanders (the fourth, Consilience Solutions Inc., is a small software consultancy).

Those three heavy-hitters have battled City Hall recently: Qwest in various lawsuits, City Center over the parking contract it lost in 2003 after 18 years and PGE over the city's unsuccessful attempt to acquire it. Now they've teamed to kill a new campaign-finance initiative—and unseat Sten at the same time.

The committee's website (www.firstthingsfirstcommittee.com) says the group opposes a May City Council decision that could provide public funding for city elections to candidates who meet qualification guidelines, noting that "money will be taken out of vital city programs and services—like schools, police, parks, roads and neighborhoods."

That's interesting for a couple of reasons: First, the city doesn't directly fund schools; second, City Center and Qwest previously tried to gut the city's Business Income Tax, which would have slashed the services they claim to want to preserve. (City Center boss Greg Goodman also recently lobbied City Hall for a tax abatement for a downtown development project.)

Although the 61 people who have endorsed the committee include some respected business leaders, the list skews toward utility employees and their families, acolytes of former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, and clients of the public-relations firm Gard & Gerber.

And one of the endorsers, state Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) has been lining up support from utilities and other critics to challenge Sten in the May primary. Burdick is an employee of Gard & Gerber, as is committee spokeswoman Ellie Booth, who says the group is focusing on gathering 27,000 signatures by Jan. 17 to put public financing to a vote on the May ballot.