I think if you look at many U.S churches from the 1700s and forward. It was a custom in many protestant churches that pews were purchased or held by famillies. I just saw an article on the church President Bush attends in Washington about twice a month. Its called Madison's Box where he sits. I would bet in old churches you can still see family names on the pews.
I live in a large metropolitan archdiocese and as far as I know we never had anything like that here, however I do remember stories about people paying a “seating fee” in the vestibule of the church as they entered for Mass on Sundays. I believe it was about five or ten cents and the practice died out in the years following WWII. This was probably the same type of fund-raising scam only altered to fit city parishes where there were up to eight Masses on Sundays and no one could reasonably claim a pew for themselves.
A few years ago when the pews in our church were in need of repair, our pastor asked for donations for the project. In return, those who made a certain sized contribution would have a small dedication plaque attached to one of the pews. Our priest had to make it clear from the pulpit that those pews were not being “bought” by anyone and that all pews in the church were for everyone’s use.