I am in the (slow) process of editing my notes on Lie Groups and Quantum Groups (V Serganova, Math 261B, UC Berkeley, Spring 2010. Mostly I can fill in gaps to arguments, but I have found myself completely stuck in one step of one proof. One possibility that would get me unstuck is a positive answer to the following (which may be obviously false or trivial, but I'm not thinking well):

Question:Let $\mathfrak g$ be a finite-dimensional Lie algebra over $\mathbb K$, and if necessary you may assume that $\mathbb K = \mathbb C$ and that $\mathfrak g$ is semisimple. Then $\mathfrak g$ acts on itself by the adjoint action, and on polynomial functions $f : \mathfrak g \to \mathbb K$ via derivations. A polynomial $f: \mathfrak g \to \mathbb K\,$ is$\mathfrak g$-invariantif $\mathfrak g \cdot f = 0$. For example, let $\pi: \mathfrak g \to \mathfrak{gl}(V)$ be any finite-dimensional reprensentation. Then $x \mapsto \operatorname{tr}_V \bigl(\pi(x)^n\bigr)$ is $\mathfrak g$-invariant for any $n\in \mathbb N$. Is every $\mathfrak g$-invariant function of this form? Or at least a sum of products of functions on this form?

When $\mathfrak g$ is one of the classical groups $\mathfrak{sl},\mathfrak{so},\mathfrak{sp}$, or the exceptional group $G_2$ the answer is yes, because we did those examples in the aforementioned class notes. But I have no good grasp for the $E$ series, and I don't know if the statement holds for non-semisimples.

What I'm actually trying to prove is a weaker statement, but I figured I'd ask the stronger question, because to me the answer is not obviously "no". The weaker statement:

Claim:Let $\mathfrak g$ be a finite-dimensional semisimple Lie algebra over $\mathbb C$. Then every $\mathfrak g$-invariant function is constant on nilpotent elements of $\mathfrak g$. (Recall that $x\in \mathfrak g$ isnilpotentif $\operatorname{ad}(x) = [x,] \in \mathfrak{gl}(\mathfrak g)$ is a nilpotent matrix — some power of it vanishes.)

It's clear that the spectrum of any nilpotent matrix is $\{0\}$, and for a semisimple Lie algebra, any nilpotent element acts nilpotently in all representations. For the classical groups, in the notes we exhibited generators for the rings of $\mathfrak g$-invariant functions as traces of representations, and so we can just check the above claim. But we did not do the $E$ series or $F_4$.