While signature partisan barbs were thrown during the approval process, it was those tasked with drafting the program — a giant government allowance to fund failing banks — who quickly became the taxpayer's least favorite people.
The so-called Troubled Asset Relief Program — or "TARP" — has neared the end of the road. And its key architect — Neel Kashkari, a Bush administration adviser and former assistant secretary for international affairs at Treasury — may now ask for the taxpayer's vote. Kashkari launched a campaign-style website late Wednesday detailing his curriculum vitae (Republican with bipartisan experience, bred in Ohio, middle-class family), staging for what could be a run at a public office in California. (Read More: Hedge Funds, Big Money Circle TARP's Weakest Banks)
Despite the hatred, Kashkari told the New York Times his Treasury tenure during the financial crisis was "the most rewarding time of [his] life." (Read More: Inside America's Economic Crisis)
TARP has been, by most measures, a success. The government spent roughly two-thirds of what it was allotted, and companies have paid back some 94 percent of what was disbursed, according to a Jan.10 report to Congress. Of what's left, Treasury has said it will seek to exit all of its bank investments this year, as well as selling its remaining stake in General Motors. That's after a hugely successful stock sale for AIG, with that investment netting the federal government a $22.7 billion profit. (Though, Kashkari admitted in congressional hearings he came up with the $700 billion figure "out of thin air" —optimists hope he could restore California's budget.)
"It has become almost unpatriotic to question the many and munificent bank rescues of 2008 and beyond," writes Gretchen Morgensen in the New York Times, beginning a profile of Sheila Bair, former FDIC chairwoman who pitted herself staunchly against Wall Street.
Has it become so unpatriotic to criticize that Kashkari could, at this time, get elected?
The electorate got a taste of bailout politics during the 2012 election as Gov. Mitt Romney frequently pitted himself against the President by saying he would have let Big Auto go bankrupt instead of charging the taxpayer. (Read More: Auto Bailout Ultimately Steers Obama to Victory)
Watching those debates, it's little surprise most of the TARP alums have found comfort in the private sector or academia:
A former advisor to then-Treasury secretaries Hank Paulson and Tim Geithner through 2008 and 2009, Steven Shafran is now a professor at Georgetown's McDonough School of Business. According to the school's website, the last class he taught was in spring 2011, titled "Financial Engineering in Crisis." Though he hasn't sworn off politics completely: Shafran also plays an active development role in Ketchum, Idaho, the quaint commercial town adjacent to the lush Sun Valley resort, where he once served as a city councilman.
Shafran was among the Goldman Sachs brain trust plucked by Paulson to help stem the crisis, earning the group the name "Government Sachs." Another member of that brain trust and close adviser to the Treasury secretary was Kendrick R. "Ken" Wilson III, who decamped Washington in early 2010 to joinBlackRock as vice chairman. Wilson now recruits top executives for the asset manager and serves as a close confidante to chairman Larry Fink.
Michele Davis, Treasury's assistant secretary for public affairs, now advises corporate clients as a communications partner at Brunswick Group. Notably, the Romney campaign tapped Davis for public relations expertise in August 2012 as it faced mudslinging over his private equity history and low tax rates.(Read More: Highest Profile Goldman Sachs Alums)
Jim Millstein served as chief restructuring officer at the Treasury Department from 2009 to 2011 and led the turnaround of AIG. He is the chairman and chief executive of Millstein & Co., a financial advisory and investment firm. Phillip Swagel served as assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy from 2006 to 2009 and worked on implementing the Troubled Assets Relief Program. He is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.
Sloan Deerin pioneered the banks capital purchase program (CPP) for three years, before leaving Treasury in spring 2012 to join boutique firm Compass Point Research & Trading. Among his advisory work: Crunching the numbers for buyside clients interested in taking banks' TARP stakes off the government's hands this year.
Perhaps the only one — yet — to land back in government is the man who left Treasury just as the crisis was unfolding. Robert K. Steel, Treasury's former undersecretary for domestic finance, now serves as New York City's deputy mayor for economic development, a role he took in 2010. Steel left Treasury in 2008 to take the reins at Wachovia Corp. from G. Kennedy Thompson, before selling the bank to Wells Fargo at the height of the financial crisis.
—By CNBC's Kayla Tausche; Follow her on Twitter: @KaylaTausche