The Des Moines Register reports that for five years ending in February 2011, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission shook down landlords for "voluntary contributions" in exchange for dropping discrimination complaints. The Register obtained copies of 27 settlement agreements involving about $20,000 in contributions. Unlike money from fines, which end up in the state's general fund, the donations went directly to the commission, creating "the impression that justice is for sale," as state court administrator David Boyd puts it. The commission ended the practice after Winterset attorney Mark Smith questioned its propriety.
Smith tells the Register that a landlord he represented was the target of a sting operation in which a commission employee posed as a tenant who needed a "service dog" for anxiety and asked whether a pet deposit would be required. Evidently the landlord said yes, because the commission later sent him a transcript of the telephone conversation along with a proposed settlement agreement calling for "a voluntary contribution to the commission in the amount of $500."
"In my opinion," Smith says, "their conduct was grossly unethical." The Register reports that the Iowa Attorney General's Office initially "agreed that soliciting donations in lieu of fines was acceptable under Iowa law" but "revisited the issue early last year [i.e., after Smith's complaint] and concluded the practice is not appropriate."
[Thanks to Mark Lambert for the tip.]