A penny saved is $693,773 paid at Franklin Resources…

Good old Ben Franklin has been held up as a paragon of thrift and financial virtue in this country for two centuries — and for good reason. He published Poor Richard’s Almanack and gets credit for such pithy sayings as that bit about early to bed and early to rise, as well as “a penny saved is twopence dear” (in its original phrasing). He even served as the frugal inspiration for Rupert H. Johnson Sr., who founded what is now the mutual-fund giant Franklin Resources (BEN).

So what would Ben Franklin think of the proxy that Franklin Resources put out Tuesday? True, the company’s executives skipped their discretionary cash bonuses for the second year running — that’s several bushels of twopence pieces right there. And yet, they still got cash performance bonuses well above last year: $2.65 million for Chief Executive Gregory E. Johnson, up from $1.65 million.

But there’s more to it: Last spring, the company urged its shareholders (successfully) to require the company to pay dividends to the company’s stock-option holders. Before, the practice was at the company’s discretion. Immediately afterward, the board approved a $2.75 special dividend to the holders of unexercised options, to make up for for missing out on a a $3-a-share special dividend paid to stockholders a few months before the shareholder vote.

Those moves brought three top executives a total of nearly $1 million, including $693,773 for Gregory Johnson, son of Chairman Charles B. Johnson. Of course, it doesn’t quite make up for that missing bonus — the same three execs collected $2.1 million in bonuses in 2008, including $1.2 million for Gregory J. — but it sure makes up for a little more than half of it. And because the new provision is mandatory, it’ll keep on paying out whether or not the board can see its way to writing bonus checks in future years.

Franklin Resources’ shareholders might not care too much — after all, they got their dividends as well, and the company’s shares have been ticking along pretty steadily ahead of the asset-management sector and the S&P 500 — but we’re not sure Ben would be all that thrilled.

Bonus: We won’t be paying you a special dividend today, but we can leave you with a few of our favorite Franklin adages, courtesy of the Franklin Institute:

“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

“If Jack’s in love, he’s no judge of Jill’s beauty.”

“Cheese and salty meat should be sparingly eat.”*

And, of course, what might be a motto for us here at footnoted:

“God helps them that help themselves.”

* OK, we can’t really see how this one applies to investing, or that it quite rhymes, but clearly Ben was ahead of his time when it came to healthy eating.

Image source: Library of Congress


Want to see more of the actionable information hiding in routine SEC filings? Check out footnotedPro, our subscription-only service.