This article examines the role of the California Health Benefits Review Program (CHBRP) as a source of information in state health policy making. It explains why the California benefits review process relies heavily on university‐based researchers and employs a broad set of criteria for review, which set it apart from similar programs in other states. It then analyzes the politics of health insurance mandates and how independent research and analysis might alter the perceived benefits and costs of health insurance mandates and thus political outcomes. It considers how research and analysis is typically used by policy makers, and illustrates how participants inside and outside of state government have used the reports prepared by CHBRP as both guidance in policy design and as political ammunition. Although there is consensus that the review process has reduced the number of mandate bills that are passed out of the legislature, both supporters and opponents favor the new process and generally believe the reports strengthen their case in legislative debates over health insurance mandates. The role of the CHBRP is narrowly defined by statute at the present time, but the program may well face pressure to evolve from its current academic orientation into a more interactive, advisory role for legislators in the future.