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Bruce Anderson, cheese of staff

A cheese basket may seem the paragon of innocence, but Oregon's ethics law says that public officials can't accept gifts worth more than $50 in a calendar year.

COURTESY USDA - Here's something you might not know about Bruce Anderson, chief of staff to House Republican Leader Christine Drazan: he loves cheese.

Among the great inventions, Anderson says, is cheese. (Nutella, too).

"I just absolutely love cheese," he said in a phone interview this week.

Last fall, though, Anderson's love for cheese nearly collided with state ethics laws.

Understanding his enthusiasm for du fromage, in October, the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce presented Anderson with a basket of cheeses and a plaque for his work on the chamber board and as president.

Anderson, a longtime lobbyist, had to cut short his term as president of the chamber, after accepting his post in Drazan's office last year.

"Bruce Anderson has been a rock for this organization for over 11 years," said Chamber CEO Tom Hoffert during a chamber luncheon in October, per a CCTV recording. "And his service to the Salem and Keizer communities is quite profound."

Anderson says he was "totally surprised" by both the basket and the plaque.

A cheese basket may seem the paragon of innocence, but Oregon's ethics law says that public officials — that includes public employees — can't accept gifts worth more than $50 in a calendar year from a source that has an administrative or legislative interest in their official position.

Anderson says that initially, it didn't dawn on him that accepting the basket could run contrary to any laws.

Last fall, the Oregon Capital Bureau called Hoffert to inquire about the cheese basket. Unbeknownst to the bureau, Hoffert got the call while speaking with Anderson for a chamber podcast and played a reporter's voice mail for Anderson.

Anderson then bought some cheeses to replace the ones he'd opened, and gave the basket, and the new and remaining unopened cheeses back to the chamber.

"It was a nice basket, too," Anderson said with a laugh. "I don't know who put the whole thing together, but it was beautiful."

Months later, Anderson can't recall which cheeses he had selected to keep.

But Anderson — who once lobbied for food processors — is a fan of various Oregon cheese purveyors, including Willamette Valley Cheese and Rogue Creamery. He speaks glowingly of a blue cheese by the latter that, he thinks, was smoked with hazelnut shells.

"Holy cow," Anderson said. "That adds such a nuance to that blue cheese. It's amazing."